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Lawmakers can fix what's wrong with red-light cameras

Your elected officials working away up there in Tallahassee have a great shot at leveling the playing field when it comes to those cameras that snap photos of traffic scofflaws with nary a police officer in sight.

Red-light cameras — sprouting like summer sand spurs from Temple Terrace to Kenneth City, and maybe coming soon to an intersection near you — have been controversial lately.

Law-and-order types — or just those of us willing to suspend our libertarian sensibilities because of lunatic drivers who routinely run red lights and risk the rest of us — are for them. So were 72 percent of 800 Florida voters in a recent poll, with, interestingly, Republicans and Democrats pretty much even, at 71 and 74 percent.

Those of us for using cameras to deter a potentially deadly practice do not even mind so much that local governments benefit financially from fines (as in, more than $1.5 million in Temple Terrace since 2008), so long as the cameras are operated on the up and up.

Not so enthused are those who see red-light cameras as Big Brother on a stick. Ditto citizens suspicious that their current popularity is more about dwindling budgets than public safety.

And everyone concerned is watching with interest a Miami-Dade circuit judge's recent ruling that red-light cameras overstep state law.

Well, guess what? Our Legislature could fix much of the trouble.

It's called the Mark Wandall Traffic Safety Act, named for a 30-year-old insurance agent, husband and soon-to-be father killed when another driver ran a red light near his Bradenton home in 2003. There's your sobering reminder of why we're talking about this in the first place.

Versions — House Bill 325 and Senate Bills 294 and 2166, sponsored by Republicans Ron Reagan, Mike Bennett and Thad Altman, provide consistent rules for how cameras would be used statewide, from the equipment to who gets the ticket (the registered owner of the car, as with parking tickets) to the fee ($155). Uniformity goes a long way toward integrity.

Details of the bill address the biggest argument against cameras: that they are less about enforcing the law than bringing in money to cities and counties badly in need. Calling the cameras a hidden tax, Republican state Rep. Robert Schenck of Spring Hill has filed his own bill against local governments using them.

The Mark Wandall Act would give locals who believe that cameras are being used for anything other than public safety a means to file a complaint. Cities and counties found not to be operating on the up-and-up could get kicked out of the red-light camera program, as they should.

Here is some of the best grousing I have heard thus far about the cameras, from a friend who, for the record, is firmly against the running of red lights. "It just doesn't feel sporting," he says. "A cop out there, and me — that's at least an even competition."

There's a point in there somewhere — that it feels more like a sneaky attempt to nail your wallet than an honest push to fix bad behavior. The bill says that statewide, signs must be posted at intersections warning you the cameras are there, driver beware. Nothing sneaky about that.

Want a law that might actually fix something? Let your legislators know.

Lawmakers can fix what's wrong with red-light cameras 03/04/10 [Last modified: Thursday, March 4, 2010 8:33pm]
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