Red light camera report criticizes some cities

The Florida legislature's non-partisan policy officereleased a report that criticizes numerous aspects of how red light cameras are operated in the state, while other portions of the report suggest the technology affects drivers' behaviors.

The study, conducted by the Office of Program Policy Analysis & Government Accountability (OPPAGA), echoes many of the findings of 10 Investigates' year-long red light camera (RLC) investigation. The report was called for by State Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, following 10 Investigates' original "Short Yellow Light" story last May.

Among the findings:

  • A June2013 count of RLC in Florida revealed 922 monitored approaches, generating a record $119M in revenue last year.
  • Of the more than 70 Florida municipalities with RLC, just 15 account for half the state's RLC revenue. That includes Tampa (No. 3 in the state), St. Pete (No. 7), Hillsborough Co. (No. 11), and Brooksville (No. 15).
  • Most municipalities turn healthy profits on RLC programs, splitting the revenue fairly evenly with the RLC vendors. The rest of the money usually ends up in general revenue, with a very small minority of communities dedicating therevenue it to police, safety, or road repairs.
  • On "rolling right" turns, the required "careful & prudent" definition varies widely by agency and most don't even have a definition. (more info: 10 Investigates "rolling rights")
  • Even though national and state transportation organizations indicate RLC should be the last countermeasure considered for red light-running problems,the majority of Florida cities & counties say they had not tried other countermeasures first before turning to the lucrative cameras.

The study also closely examined red light camera safety claims, and found for every study that has shown RLC improves safety, there's another study thatcontradicts it. OPPAGA suggests there is no RLC safety study yet that has been comprehensive enough to rely on. (more info: 10 Investigates RLC safety claims).

In Florida, OPPAGA reports RLCs have reduced red-light running at RLC intersections, evidenced by a declining number of tickets at those specific intersections. But when it comes to crashes, the data from a samplingof RLC intersections show a mixed bag:

  • Fatalities are down 49% andsideswipe accidents are down a whopping 84%.
  • Total crashes at those intersections are up 12% and side-angle crashes, "most commonly associated with red light running" are up 22%.
  • Rear-end crashes are also up 35% statewide at RLC intersections.
  • But the crash increases are almost allfrom Miami-Dade and Broward counties, while the rest of the state held fairly steady.

Florida's most prominent RLC provider, American Traffic Solutions, issued a press release Sunday that touted the 49% drop in fatalities:

American Traffic Solutions (ATS) is gratified that the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability (OPPAGA) report affirms that red-light safety cameras reduce fatalities and injuries at Florida intersections where they are deployed. Furthermore, as the report straight-forwardly acknowledges, we agree that improved data collection and analysis is needed to better understand the contradictory, inconsistent and incomplete information related to rear-end and side-angle crash data.

In July 2013, Representative Jeff Brandes sponsored several updates to the Mark Wandall Traffic Safety Act, which became law and are just now taking effect. These included changes to the issuance right on red violations and the appeals process. In its report OPPAGA offers several additional recommendations to further improve the program statewide. We look forward to working closely with our customers and the legislature to enhance the effectiveness of Florida's red-light safety camera law.

Additionally, ATS Spokesman Charles Territo told 10 News, "a 49% reduction in the number of fatalities at red-light camera intersections is beyond significant. If a pharmaceutical company introduced a drug that cut your likelihood of dying from a terminal illness in half they would be given the Nobel Prize."

The OPPAGA report concludes with suggestions on how to possibly improve the program, including stiffer penalties for cities and counties that faily to report requiredsafety reporting (more info: 10 Investigates why cities are breaking the law).

OPPAGA also suggests possibly limiting a city's ability to profit off cameras. Cities like St. Petersburg, Lakeland, Tampa, Brooksville and Sarasota would stand to lose millions of dollars each onthat possible change.

OPPAGA representatives will present the findings Thursday to the Florida Senate's transportation committee. Brandes has made it clear RLC reform -- or a possible repeal -- is high on his 2014 legislative priorities.

"It is deeply disturbing to think that cities and counties in our state may be choosing camera revenue before implementing proven safety countermeasures," Brandes said at a Monday press conference. "While these cameras are not decreasing accidents, the report highlights that we are seeing an increase of over 200 percent in revenue since fiscal year 2010-2011 and that 15 communities are bringing in well north of a million dollars each from the revenue.

"Seventy-six percent of local governments use the revenue to boost their general budgets and only 14 percent use that money for public safety, " Brandes added. "This shows the perverse incentives inherent in the red light camera program."

When 10 Investigates asked Governor Scott where he stood on possible RLC reform, he remained non-committal, saying he needed to see more data. The OPPAGA report should provide that information, and 10 News will follow-up with the governor soon on his reaction.

TIMELINE: 10 News' Short Yellows Investigation
MAP: Short Yellows in Your Neighborhood

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