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LIGHT PLAN DESERVES AT LEAST A YELLOW

When I heard Hillsborough County was considering mounting cameras at busy intersections to nail red-light runners, I did not think: What a terrible idea!

My first thought was not: This is about making money, not stopping lead-foots!

It was not: I don't want government invading my privacy with those cameras!

Not even: Isn't there something sorta smelly about the same company issuing the tickets making money off the fines?

Nope, none of that.

What I thought was: Good. Go get 'em.

Because I'm tired of it, and maybe you are, too. It can be deadly and I see it at least once a week - some driver flying through an intersection like yellow means not slow down but gun it.

So Hillsborough, site of 439 red-light crashes last year, is talking about joining the likes of Seattle, New York, closer-to-home Apopka and coming-soon-in-Port Richey in a photo-finish plan to curb the problem.

It works like this: Cameras on poles take pictures of the offending cars and their license plates. After a deputy reviews each case, the camera vendor sends photos and a ticket to the car owner. (And, yes, you can make the case that you weren't the one driving your car that day.)

The accused can also watch a 12-second video of the incident on the Internet. He or she (one study I found says gender-wise, we're equally prone to flooring it) can contest the ticket, which doesn't involve insurance points.

Proponents point out it pays for itself by fining offenders, which would be pretty poetic. (That's a biggie, making sure taxpayers aren't on the hook.) It also frees up cops for duties beyond babysitting intersections.

That said, government-installed cameras may not square with some folk's idea of civil liberty.

But here's a bottom line: The numbers say cameras have an impact. New York's program reduced violations by 73 percent between 1994 and 2005.

"What we're doing right now is not working," says Hillsborough sheriff's Cpl. Rob Rodriguez. "I would hate to turn a blind eye to something that could save lives."

One big issue to be considered is how the camera vendor makes money. In one plan, the vendor leases each camera to the county for a monthly rate of $4,750, which is paid with fines. The county would get to keep any money brought in beyond that amount. And if a camera brings in less than the monthly rate in fines, too bad; what comes in is all the vendor gets. (Though it's probably a good bet we'd have enough scofflaws to pay full freight.)

All of which sounds a whole lot better than another plan that would let the vendor collect a percentage of the fines.

Other arguments? Longer yellow lights cut down on red light running, according to studies. But longer yellows and cameras decrease it much more dramatically, according to a study cited by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Here's one more: Rear-end crashes can go up when cameras are installed because people hit the brakes.

But Rodriguez points out those wrecks tend to be less dangerous than T-bones caused by red-light runners, and rear-end wrecks lessen as people get used to cameras.

So commissioners have a lot to think about.

Me, I hope they go slow and proceed with caution. And then go get 'em.

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