Joe Bernardi wants the Brooksville City Council to put its money where its mouth is. Or is this case, the money from red light camera citations. Bernardi, a council member who voted against a new deal to install up to 20 cameras around the city, last week offered a logical idea for spending the windfall if the city's true intent is to make its streets safer for motorists and pedestrians. Bernardi wants the red light money earmarked for driver's education for teenagers.
His suggestion stirred interest, but no unanimous consent from other council members. They put off making a decision on amending the city budget to account for what proponents project could be a monthly payout of up to $4,500 per camera.
Credit Bernardi for steering this conversation in the right direction. There is a waiting list of teens seeking to take the $100-per-student driver's class at Nature Coast Technical High School. After-hours, fee-based classes are the only driver's training offered by the Hernando School District, which eliminated the traditional the in-school, semester-long elective because of budget constraints.
Some council members wondered about the wisdom of sending money to the school district for personnel and curriculum costs. As an alternative, the city could establish an account to provide reimbursement stipends to students completing the class.
Bernardi's benevolence didn't end at the city line. He called for the money to be shared on driver's training at each of the five public high schools across the county even though the revenue is produced within Brooksville's municipal limits, home to just one high school – Hernando High. With 97 percent of the past tickets generated by red light cameras going to out-of-town drivers, Bernardi is correct to try to increase exposure to drivers training for all of Hernando County's teens.
Here's why: The crash rate for 18-year-old drivers is more than four timers higher than that of octogenarians in the state of Florida. Last year teenage drivers accounted for nearly 27,000 crashes that left 144 teens dead and 18,000 injured. Providing additional driver training for this age group is a smart investment and helps ensure their safety and also that of other motorists.
Bernardi's idea also deflates attempts to use the red light camera revenue as a cash cow for other city projects. In the past, we advocated putting the money into the city's capital improvement account rather than allowing the police department to hire additional officers. It remains sensible to avoid allocating the money for a recurring expense like employee salaries and benefits since collections have yet to be measured. Likewise, the city must account for a potential legislative repeal of all red light cameras in Florida that is expected to be considered in 2012.
While it is tempting to budget the money for desirable public construction projects around Brooksville, the council would be smart to entertain Bernardi's notion. Allowing current motorists who break the law to help educate the next generation of drivers to avoid doing likewise is a legitimate way to improve public safety in Brooksville and Hernando County.