ST. PETERSBURG — Despite growing questions about whether red light cameras make intersections safer, the City Council continued its support of introducing them by next summer as a way to fine motorists who don't stop at traffic signals.
The City Council voted 6-1 on Thursday to hire a vendor to install 20 cameras among the city's 298 intersections with traffic lights. Once cameras are installed, drivers who are recorded passing through a red light will get a $158 ticket. If the ticket isn't paid within 30 days, the fine will increase to $256.
"People will blow through lights," said council member Bill Dudley, a former driving instructor. "It's unbelievable. The only way you can impact them is to hit them in the pocket. This is about public safety. I've seen the results."
Yet it's unclear what effect the cameras have on red light running. Just last month, Los Angeles' city controller concluded that the cameras have failed to demonstrate an improvement in safety after 32 photo-enforced intersections were studied. Other studies, including one from the University of South Florida's Department of Public Health, show the cameras increase the number of rear-end collisions.
Council member Wengay Newton said he had doubts about the cameras and cast the lone vote against them. The cameras don't improve safety, he said, and are only a way to bring in more revenue. He suggested the city not fine those who are caught on camera.
But Mayor Bill Foster is unwavering in his support of the cameras and said the fines are necessary to deter future violations.
"I don't see red light running any differently than driving under the influence," he said. "Pretty soon you will kill someone. The idea that somehow we're not going to punish people who put others at risk, that's ludicrous."
Michael Van Sickler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8037.