TAMPA BAY, Florida -- The state's Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (DHSMV) just completed its annual red light camera report, but for the first time, the summary did not include any information on the number of crashes at red light camera intersections. It also did not include any legislative recommendations, as required by the state's red light camera (RLC) law.
The DHSMV's previous annual summaries focused on how many municipalities reported drops in crashes after installing cameras, even including an "effect on safety" section in the report. But 10 Investigates reported in 2013 the summary didn't tell the whole story, as many cities and counties reported increases in crashes. Other communities failed to turn in their legally-required stats at all.
Again this year, 10 Investigates reported how many cities missed the Oct. 1 reporting deadline required by the state's red light camera law, although DHSMV granted an extension because so many cities had difficulty gathering their responses. According to the state, Lakeland was among the cities that failed to respond to the questionnaire at all.
A DHSMV spokesperson told 10 Investigates the crash stats were ultimately included this year only as raw data in a pair of appendices to increase transparency. Some communities reported drops in crashes, but others showed jumps. Many, including Tampa, reported the crash stats were not available.
Since no two cities analyze their data in the same way, it's difficult to get an apples-to-apples comparison of RLC's effects across the state. In fact, 10 Investigates' previous reporting has identified how little conclusive research has been done on the many safety claims made by RLC supporters.
"The numbers are all over the place," said State Sen. Jeff Brandes (R, St. Petersburg), a frequent RLC critic who has tried unsucessfully to prohibit them in Florida. "This program is not working correctly. It's a poorly-written law that needs to be addressed...one of the things you've got to do is standardize right-on-red (enforcement)...traffic laws should be uniform across the state."
A 2014 report by the Florida Legislature's Office of Program Policy Analysis and Governmental Accountability (OPPAGA) showed fatalities likely dropped at RLC intersections, but side-angle and rear-end crashes likely increased.
Other findings in the state's 2014 red light camera summary report:
- 68% of violations are paid on-time and without appeal.
- More than 50% of citations appealed in front of a judge were tossed.
- 68% of municipalities issue "rolling right" tickets, although nearly a third have no definition of what's considered an unticketable "careful & prudent" turn.
- 94% of municipalities report using RLCs to investigate other crimes.
- Only half of municipalities said they took additional safety measures at RLC intersections, such as infrastructure improvements or public education/awareness campaigns.
- There were 940,814 Notice of Violations issued during fiscal year 2013-14, charging drivers $158 each.
The rest of the report was very light on statistics and included no recommendations for the state's legislation despite countless controversies around the state on how the law is enforced.
TIMELINE: 10 News' Short Yellows Investigation
The state's red light camera (RLC) law requires the DHSMV to compile a summary:
On or before December 31, 2012, and annually thereafter, the department shall provide a summary report to the Governor, the President of the Senate, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives regarding the use and operation of traffic infraction detectors under this section, along with the department's recommendations and any necessary legislation. The summary report must include a review of the information submitted to the department by the counties and municipalities and must describe the enhancement of the traffic safety and enforcement programs.
"(Cameras) are not reducing accidents, and (cities) are not spending their money on public safety," Brandes said, adding that he plans to file a RLC repeal bill again in 2015 but doesn't expect strong support.
The report was presented to the governor's office on Wednesday and will be posted on the agency's website Monday.