This year’s effort to ban red-light cameras in Florida was approved by the Florida House Transportation & Infrastructure Subcommittee after testimony that the records shows the cameras don’t appear to be reducing traffic accidents and their primary purpose seems to be revenue that’s not doing much to improve highway safety.
House Bill 6007 is the house’s fifth attempt to ban the cameras since the Florida Legislature authorized them in 2010. Previous repeal attempts passed the house in 2011 and 2016, only to die in the Florida Senate.
This year’s primary sponsor state Rep. Bryan Avila, a Hialeah Republican, laid out crash statistics from a Florida Department of Highway Safety & Motor Vehicles study that showed that reports of crashes at intersections with red-light cameras have actually increased; that the $158 fines are actually doing more to enrich the private vendors and fill state and local general fund coffers than go toward highway safety or research; and that the number of repeat offenders is not going down, meaning the camera are not deterring people.
“Members, this may have been a well-intentioned program when it was authorized in 2010. However the numbers indicate that the program is less about public safety and more about revenue,” Avila said.
Despite opposition to HB 6007 by representatives of law enforcement agencies and cities, and an impassioned, personal plea by Melissa Wandall, whose husband’s 2003 death in an accident caused by a red-light runner helped inspire the 2010 Mark Wandall Traffic Safety Program Act, the subcommittee overwhelmingly voted in agreement with Avila. The panel approved the bill, and sent it along to the full House Government Accountability Committee.
Avila’s position was backed most clearly by Liberty First Network representative Paul Henry of Monticello, who is a retired state trooper, a traffic homicide investigator, who corroborated the notion that red-light cameras may be doing more harm than good.
“I have worked many, many traffic crashes,” Henry said. “What causes red-light traffic crashes generally are two things: inattentive drivers and impaired drivers. There is not a camera or device on the face of this Earth that can prevent that from happening the way that is happening.”
Yet the highway safety data leave some uncertainty about whether the presence of red-light cameras might be preventing some of the more horrific crashes that happen at high-speeds in the middle of intersections. Wandall and other law enforcement officers, including Capt. Dennis Strange of the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, urged the panel members to look closely at they data. They testified they are convinced that the presence of red-light cameras are improving safety.
Wandall was nine-months pregnant when her husband was killed by a driver who flew threw a red light and struck them at high speed in the middle of the intersection.
“I am telling you right now they save lives.” she said of the cameras. “And at the end of the day, 12 years later – 13 years later, because my daughter just turned 13 – there still is an empty seat at our table. And I don’t want that for other people in other families.”