The city of Brooksville is again looking in the wrong direction to bolster its bottom line. Council members are resurrecting the misguided idea of using red-light cameras for traffic enforcement.
Despite protests to the contrary, this is not about enhanced safety. Statewide, more than half of all accidents are caused by careless driving or failing to yield the right of way, but nobody has figured out a way to automate enforcement of those road rules to turn a quick buck. Instead the focus is on the lucrative tickets from red-light cameras, even though running a red light caused less than 2.7 percent of the fatal crashes in Florida last year.
The city has used this tactic before but abandoned the cameras in 2010 amid questions about the validity of the safety data. The potential cash-grab is back with the council scheduled to consider a proposal Monday under which the city and camera vendor, Sensys America, would split the revenue from as many as 240 tickets monthly so that each pockets $4,500.
But this number mattered more during the previous debate: 97 — the percentage of red-light camera tickets issued to non-city residents during the prior two years. A council majority wisely said they feared red-light cameras were counterproductive to economic development and the notoriety of the enforcement could push visitors away from the downtown business district. The council shouldn't stray from that logic.
Another consideration, not part of the prior debate, is the legality of the ticket-writing operation. Defense lawyers have successfully questioned some camera vendors' shoddy chain of evidence practice. Others have undermined the cameras' use by noting the unequal fines between tickets issued by cameras as compared with those written by police officers. The result is that some camera systems are falling far short of the revenue projections promised to the local governments.
Meanwhile, in Tallahassee, the state House of Representatives passed legislation in May banning red-light cameras, but the measure did not come to the Senate for a vote. It is imprudent for Brooksville to charge ahead with reinstallation of the cameras (and, more dangerously, accounting for new revenue that may not materialize) since the Legislature will try again in 2012.
"Unequivocally, I can tell you there will be all sorts of legislation filed dealing with red-light cameras," said Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-New Port Richey, who sponsored the 2011 bill banning them.
There is no question that it was a difficult budget season in Brooksville where the city had to pare more than $400,000 to make ends met. But using red-light cameras to tap the pockets of out-of-town motorists shouldn't be the first remedy used to avoid a repeat.