Red light cameras represent a political battle near and dear to my heart. They are the devil.
As cities across Florida – and indeed the nation – continue to implement these eyes in the sky, many issues have arisen. Do they work? Are they for safety or revenue? Are they even constitutional? To be sure, municipalities across the nation have had vastly different results. One town may implement the system without much fuss, others see a huge backlash. Some may make a fortune, others get swamped in legal fees due to appeals.
In true nature, Florida has managed to put the case in focus while creating a circus.
News recently broke that in the Tampa Bay area, the Florida Department of Transportation directly conflicted with national red light standards by shortening yellow lights. Shorter yellows = more red light violations. It turns out, it also = more dangerous intersections. Commentary Magazine has an excellent write up on the dangerous but profitable gamble that FDOT has made against Floridians. Here is an excerpt:
The practice of reducing yellow light times without notifying motorists was blamed for at least one recent traffic death near Tampa, which prompted further investigation. The danger of the traffic light cameras–even without manipulating light times–is nothing new. As the Star-Ledger reported a few months ago, a study in New Jersey found that the installation of traffic light cameras resulted in increased accidents at those intersections, including a 20-percent rise in rear-end collisions.
Aside from the life-threatening risk to motorists and passengers in those accidents, the Star-Ledger noted that according to the study the “crash severity cost,” which calculates the cost of property and vehicle damage, as well as medical care for the crash victims and the expense to the municipality of emergency response, increased by about $1.2 million. The cameras are putting lives at risk every day, so why use them?
They are a cash cow. But a “for-profit business between cities and camera companies” that incentivizes making the roads more dangerous for citizens doesn’t sound like a particularly ethical undertaking for the government. As it turns out, “ethical” is not a word often associated with how the traffic cameras are operated. As Holman Jenkins recently explained in the Wall Street Journal, the cameras have become a sleazy new form of taxation, and “When governments are engaged in sleazy new forms of taxation, sleaze happens.”
A fantastic article at Tech Dirt points out that this problem isn’t isolated at all, as governments have systematically reduced yellow light times for the specific end of driving up tickets. Ouch!
Luckily, the fight against this dangerous and intrusive government overreach has gained major ground in the Sunshine State. For starters, the legal battle has yielded some early victories. Via Tampabay.com:
BROOKSVILLE — Calling the enforcement process unconstitutional, a Hernando County judge is automatically dismissing the cases of motorists caught on camera making rolling right turns on red lights.
In an order signed last week, County Judge Donald E. Scaglione cites three reasons why the state law is “vague (and) arbitrary and capricious.” Because of that, Scaglione wrote, enforcing a right-on-red violation is unconstitutional and a violation of due process rights.
“If an officer observed the violation, there is not a defense of careful and prudent,” he wrote. “If a camera observes the violation, there is a defense of careful and prudent. The drivers are not treated equally.”
Mark Nelson at PolicyMic piles on the scathing critique of red light cameras, highlighting both the corrupt ticketing practices and failed safety logic behind their implementation. He concludes, “The truth seems clear as the RLC lobby fights for its life in the Sunshine State. This is not about our safety, it’s about little robotic spies that can take our money, and the authoritarians who put them there.”
With evidence mounting that red light cameras are primarily a revenue idea, don’t increase safety, and are rife with other unintended consequences, how could anybody be for them? That is unless, of course, they just like to feed the hungry mouth of big, intrusive government.
Then we totally get it.