As the regular session of the Florida legislature came to a close for 2009, the push to legalize the use of red light cameras throughout the state failed. However, the reasons the legislation did not pass are considered minor and it is likely the legislation will reappear in the next session.
Why Did the Legislation Fail in Florida?
There are two main reasons why the state house and senate could not agree on passing the red light camera law. First, the two bodies could not agree whether to include a retroactive immunity clause in the legislation. The house included the clause in the bill, which would have provided immunity to the manufacturers of red light cameras from lawsuits seeking repayment of fines for illegally issued citations. The senate did not include the immunity clause in its version of the bill.
Second, the two bodies could not agree on how to divide the proceeds from the tickets. A ticket for running a red light is $150. The house wanted to give $85 from each ticket to the city or community where the citation was issued. The senate, on the other hand, wanted the state to keep all proceeds from tickets issued on state roads and collect $60 from any tickets issued on city or county roads and give $90 to the locality where the ticket was issued.
How Do Red Light Cameras Work?
There are different types of programs for red light cameras, but generally they take photographs or videos of vehicles that enter an intersection after the light has turned red. The cameras are connected to the traffic signal and are activated when a vehicle enters an intersection above a pre-set minimum speed and after a specified time once the signal turns red.
If the car triggers the camera, the camera takes a photo or video of the car before it enters the intersection and as it passes through the intersection. The camera records the date and time of the event, the vehicle speed, the license plate number and the time lapsed in the recording.
Red light cameras do not record information from every vehicle that approaches the intersection. They do not record information from any vehicle that enters the intersection during a yellow light, even if the light turns red before the car makes it completely through the intersection. Additionally, the cameras generally provide a small grace period (up to 1/2 second) to drivers before taking their photograph or video.
Reasons in Favor of Red Light Cameras
Proponents of red light cameras argue the technology will reduce the number of intersection accidents and save lives. Statistics compiled by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in 2007 showed that nearly 900 people were killed and 153,000 were injured in collisions at intersections nationally. Of those killed, half were pedestrians and passengers in vehicles hit by drivers running red lights.
Those in favor of using the cameras also argue that they will reduce the number of red light traffic violations. According to the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety, red light cameras reduce violations by 40-50% and injury crashes by 25-30%.
Using the cameras also will free up law enforcement resources for more important functions than monitoring traffic. This can be beneficial in small communities that may not have enough police officers to patrol intersections and large cities where the population density can make it difficult and dangerous to ticket red light runners.
The camera systems also are a good source of revenue for the state and will catch more violators than the police would be capable of doing without the aid of the technology.
The Arguments Against Red Light Cameras
Not everyone agrees that the benefits of red light cameras outweigh their detriments. Opponents of red light cameras argue that they actually increase the number of accidents rather than decrease them. Studies show that while red light cameras decrease front-to-side crashes, they increase rear-end collisions. Drivers may unexpectedly slam on their breaks at intersections to avoid running a red light, giving other drivers little time to respond.
Results from a study conducted by the University of South Florida College of Public Health showed the cameras are not necessary in Florida, where the number of traffic fatalities caused by drivers running red lights account for less than 4% of the annual traffic fatalities in the state. Additionally, the number of accidents from red light running has dropped by 33% in the last decade.
Some critics argue that the cameras do not work as intended. The cameras take a photo or video of the car's license plate and a ticket is mailed to the registered driver of the car. But what if that person was not driving the car when the violation occurred? Also, studies in California show that 96% of the infractions caught by the cameras are not for running red lights, but for turning on right on red lights.
Opponents argue that there are other measures the state can take to reduce the number of intersection accidents, including making signal timing changes. Some states have had positive results decreasing collisions by increasing the amount of time light signals remain yellow before turning red. A 2004 study by the Texas Transportation Institute found that by adding one extra second to the amount of time the traffic signal is yellow results in a 40% reduction in the number of intersection collisions.
Ultimately, there are compelling arguments for and against the use red light cameras in Florida. The issue of passing a state-wide law permitting and regulating the use of the cameras is likely to come up again in the next legislative session. The eventual shape of the law, however, is still up for debate.