Florida lawmakers want to put the brakes on what some call a thinly veiled money maker for municipal governments. A House panel greenlighted a plan Thursday to ban red light cameras.
Lawmakers approved legislation about five years ago that paved the way for red light cameras. Rep. Debbie Mayfield (R-Vero Beach) served on one of the panels that okayed the bill.
“It was never about the safety, in my view. It was always about the revenue,” Mayfield.
Mayfield says she opposed the bill then and has supported a repeal each year it’s come before the legislature. Now, she says, other lawmakers are learning an important lesson.
“Now here we are and it has this big revenue generator and people are sitting up here saying ‘we have this big hole in budget now and how are we going to make up this hole in our budget?’ Well you know, quite frankly we should never have passed it and I was proud to be one of those members that voted against it,” Mayfield says.
Rep. Frank Artiles (R-Miami) is behind the move to ban red light cameras throughout Florida. His bill, if passed, would take effect in 2019, giving local governments time to adjust to any revenue decrease associated with the ban. Artiles says governments lobbied for the devices as a method for improving safety, but he doesn’t see red light camera programs working that way.
“If you are truly looking for safety issues and to help make intersections safer there are mechanisms you can do that actually are better than red light cameras. And we’ve implemented those and we’ve seen a reduction,” Artiles says.
For example, Artiles says the state passed legislation a few years ago that would require local governments to extend the length of yellow lights.
“That was an issue that we’ve had for years where we’re saying why is this yellow light shorter? [The Department of Transportation] now has the authority to check and spot check these cities that did violate, and by the way it is proven cities have violated by reducing the yellow light timing in order to give more citations,” Artiles says.
Artiles says lengthening yellow lights has led to a reduction in crashes. But others argue that decrease should be attributed to the cameras. Rep. Kathleen Peters (R-Treasure Island) says when she served as Mayor of South Pasadena, citizens requested red light cameras.
“Because we had a problem with our senior citizens not getting across the street quick enough and our pedestrians were getting hit. It wasn’t the traffic accidents. It was the pedestrians that were getting hit. And they came to us and asked us to put them in. So we did it because the citizens asked it for the safety of it,” Peters says.
And Peters says the cameras changed driver behavior.
“When we first instituted our cameras we had an enormous amount of citations in the first month and what some cities did, including ours, is we did an education beforehand to let people know that they were coming to make the citizens more aware, but we still had a significant number of them. But six months later we had about a 60-percent decrease in the number of tickets,” Peters says.
And Peters says that explains why some cities, like Florida’s capital city, are ending their red light camera programs. She says the devices change behavior and then aren’t needed anymore.
Despite the conflicting testimony, the move to ban the cameras passed through the Economic Affairs Committee Thursday with a 13-to-3 vote. A similar bill in the Senate is awaiting its first hearing.