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Will cameras make Florida roads safer? I'm not sure

Maybe it's my imagination, but it sure seems like drivers in Florida run more red lights than in other states.

When teaching my 16-year-old son to drive, we witnessed plenty of that red-light running, which I took to calling Florida Roulette.

Now it seems lots of local governments are embracing a "solution.'' Technology to the rescue. Automatic cameras are going to catch these dangerous motorists and help part them with their cash.

Great idea.

Or is it?

The city of Port Richey and Hillsborough County recently said yes to the red-light cameras, while Temple Terrace, Clearwater and Brooksville are thinking about it. Brooksville Mayor David Pugh isn't so sure.

"If there is a public safety issue, we need to see the numbers to prove it," he said. "I'm not sold on it."

Neither am I.

What's the harm, you ask? American Traffic Solutions, a private company from Arizona, would install and maintain the cameras. Local law enforcement would decide whether to issue a ticket. The company would get a $40 cut from every $125 ticket issued, a sweet deal for any cash-strapped city.

From 1999 to 2004, Washington, D.C., raked in $35-million from tickets generated by red-light cameras — proof, I suppose, that Florida Roulette is more widespread.

Money matters, but do these cameras really improve public safety? There is plenty of doubt about that.

Camera advocates point to studies that show a big drop in red-light runners once the devices are installed. But critics have noted an escalation in rear-end collisions at intersections because motorists stopped suddenly rather than risk getting caught by the eye in the sky.

Easy money from red-light cameras might reduce the incentive to address other meaningful public safety issues, such as making yellow lights stay on longer and increasing police presence at the most dangerous intersections.

With the camera idea, offenders get caught and pay a fine. Bam, it's done. But if you get caught by a police officer, you suffer other consequences: points on your drivers license and potential higher insurance premiums.

That's real deterrence.

Andrew Skerritt can be reached at askerritt@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4602 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 4602.

Will cameras make Florida roads safer? I'm not sure 03/20/08 [Last modified: Monday, March 24, 2008 11:22am]

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