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Smile for the camera as you run that light

We seem to have our own rules when it comes to driving around here, our own culture of the road.

Naturally, we have texting-at-the-wheel drivers, because who needs to see oncoming traffic all the time, and motorists oblivious because they're busy on cell phones. (And good luck getting lawmakers to crack down on that.)

Around here we need to get there now, so when the green left-turn arrow turns red, to us this means not exactly "stop," but more like "3 or 4 more cars can go, too," even if it is technically a "red light."

Speaking of which, I know an intersection (bet you do, too) where you would be mistaken to assume when your light turns green, this means you can go — not if you want to make it home for supper and not until you look both ways for red-light runners. One, two, three cars can blow through in front of you before you're safe to proceed, even if their light is, well, red. Here, it's never a surprise to happen upon broken glass, dented fenders and worse.

So when it comes to red light cameras, I have, excuse the expression, seen the light.

Tuesday the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office began issuing $125 tickets at six busy intersections equipped with cameras to catch red light scofflaws. For two months prior, to get us used to the new (wait, make that existing) rules, they sent out warnings — nearly 3,000 of them.

Wondering if This Means You? You won't know for 30 days. The picture evidence, including one of the offender's auto tag, goes to the camera vendor and must be matched with a car registration. Last to eyeball the evidence and decide ticket or no-ticket (with passes for funeral processions, getting out of the way of fire trucks, etc.) is a sheriff's deputy.

Red light cameras have sprouted from Brooksville to Pembroke Pines to New York, and critics are legion. Safety, schmafety, they say, government is out to make money. Private camera vendors will pile on tickets for profit. Small violations will cost big bucks. Rear-end crashes increase when people see cameras and hit the brakes. Okay, so let's talk about that.

Hillsborough's program has some smart tweaks, as in:

• Critics argue (rightly) that giving camera vendors a percentage of ticket fees can be financial motive for pushing more tickets. Hillsborough instead pays the vendor a flat monthly $4,750 fee per camera, no matter how many tickets result.

• Hillsborough won't issue camera-generated tickets for "technical" violations like having your tires just over the line or turning right on red as long as you're not going fast — violations not likely to cause injury or death.

• Yes, even those who believe this to be effective enforcement admit more rear-end crashes may happen, at least until we get used to cameras. But those who have worked wrecks will tell you a rear-end collision is likely to be less devastating than the kind of broadside, T-bone wrecks red-light runners can cause.

To those who object to the price tag: Stop for the light, and it won't cost a cent.

Finally, to that government-making-money argument, I say: good. Throw in community service hours cleaning up the aftermath of stupid, thoughtless wrecks to boot. Good, if changing our driving culture also nets cash.

Good, if a painful, pricey ticket helps us see the light.

Smile for the camera as you run that light 12/29/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 29, 2009 8:46pm]
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