PINELLAS COUNTY, Florida - When the City of Clearwater wanted to improve a pair of dangerous intersections in 2011, it decided to install red light cameras instead of other recommended road improvements.
Now, a Clearwater Police Department report - presented to city leaders on Tuesday- indicates no noticable drop in crashes at two camera-monitored intersections since the installation of red light cameras (RLC). A total of three cameras monitor two intersections: Gulf-to-Bay Blvd./Belcher Rd. and Chestnut St. & Ft. Harrison Ave.
CPD also reported that serious crashes at red light camera intersections climbed after the cameras were installed, from 39 the year before to 48 in 2012-13. However, the number of serious crashes returned to 40 in the most recent fiscal year. However, included in this year's injuries was 70-year-old former police officer and crossing guard Douglas Carey, who was killed at the intersection of Belcher and Gulf-to-Bay in May.
|Date||Serious Crashes||Injury Crashes|
|July '11 - June '12 (before RLC)||39||10|
|July '12 - June '13||47||10|
|July '13 - June '14||40||9|
|Source: Clearwater Police Dept., DHSMV "Long Form" reports|
Clearwater Police Chief Dan Slaughter told city council that a change in how the state collects crash data makes comparing total crash numbers from before the cameras impossible. However, he said there was no evidence rear-end accidents soared with the installation of cameras.
Slaughter also showed data that showed drastic drops in violation numbers at the monitored intersection, indicating local drivers had adjusted to the cameras and altered their behavior.
While accident numbers have fluctuated slightly at the red light camera intersections, the city's non-camera intersections appear to have fared even better. Clearwater Police report total crashes citywide were down 18% since 2011-12.
Furthermore, the CPD report indicates red light-running was never the cause of most of the crashes at the dangerous intersections. Of the 40 crashes at the two intersections in the year prior to RLC installation, police report only three (8%) were a result of red-light running. In the two years since RLC installation at the two intersections, a total of nine accidents (4%) were considered a result of red-light running.
But far outpacing the cameras' effect on red light-running was the impact of longer yellow lights. Following 10 Investigates' initial "Short Yellow" reporting, the state mandated longer yellow lights at all red light camera intersections in Florida. Slaughter acknowledged the change gave drivers more time to make safe decisions when a light changed.
In Clearwater, the longer yellow lights dropped violation rates by more than half.
Clearwater police say red light cameras are not stopping accidents at two intersections.
The city has avoided most RLC controversy by not issuing tickets for "rolling rights," and only issuing RLC tickets at two intersections. However, the city still turned a net profit from its RLC program of approximately $100,000 last fiscal year.
Clearwater's red light camera contract with Redflex is set to run through July 2015, although one councilmember suggested possibly adding more cameras. Slaughter said he was open to the idea, identifying several intersections along US-19 that are accident-prone.
However, Slaughter also said cameras are just one tool to make intersections safer and that engineering improvements may ultimately be needed to improve safety too.