TALLAHASSEE, Florida — A bill that would bring the use of red-light cameras to a screeching halt received narrow support in a Senate committee Thursday after the sponsor argued cities and counties use the traffic enforcement devices to raise cash rather than for legitimate public safety purposes.
The bill approved by the Senate Transportation Committee on a 4-3 vote would repeal the 2010 law that authorized municipalities to use the cameras to issue tickets to drivers who run red lights. Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg said most municipalities are using money from red light cameras to fund general budget needs rather than safety programs. Brandes also said studies have shown that accident rates are increasing at intersections that have the devices.
"The simple truth is that red-light cameras don't increase safety, they're essentially a revenue generation tool and that installing them at intersections makes those intersections more dangerous," Brandes said. "We have a program that not only is a backdoor tax increase on some of the citizens who can least afford to pay it, but is also making intersections less safe."
But Democratic Sens. Geraldine Thompson of Orlando and Oscar Braynon of Miami Gardens questioned whether the studies Brandes cited actually prove the cameras are the reason for the increase in crashes. They said the sample size is too small and that other factors could also account for the rise, such as more people using smartphones while driving.
Braynon also said he knows from personal experience that the devices are effective in getting drivers to obey red lights.
"I've had one red-light ticket, and after I got that, I never got another one because I stopped doing it," he said. "My wife got one right after that and she has never gotten one subsequently because she stopped trying to glide through a yellow or make a right on red — whatever it was the ticket was for. So I, personally, think they work."
Brandes said one of the things he hates most about red-light cameras is that they don't take into consideration other factors that may have led to a violation or provide leniency an officer might give in certain situations.
"They don't offer us the human side of law enforcement," he said. "They are completely and utterly machine driven. ... It's the cold, calculated nature of this that I find most objectionable."
The bill (SB 168) has two more committee stops. A House version (HB 4027) has been approved by the first of two committees.