By Reggie Connell
I hate red light cameras. Who doesn't?
I'm not going to get into specifics about my ire for them, but it has merit. Trust me.
Okay... well I will get into a little of my angst about RLC's... first of all they are sneaky. They sit on a pole and judge you, and they judge you without direct interaction... Then a month later you learn in the mail of your infraction. It's frustrating and maddening.
Okay, my venting is over.
I know my readers are shaking their heads "yes" emphatically and agreeing with every word I write and adding their experiences to the disdain they hold for RLC's. And I hate to trick readers who are in agreement with my premise, but here is the thing...
We may be wrong.
Spend some time with Captain Randy Fernandez and Lieutenant Steve Brick of the Apopka Police Department, and they might change your mind. They are advocates for the ugly black boxes which are sprinkled all over Apopka.
Fernandez and Brick insist the RLC's are 100% about public safety, and they make a good case for it.
I pointed out the report on RLC's by the Florida Department of Highway Safety that states both crashes and revenues are up... which would suggest that revenues are the primary reason if public safety has not improved, but Fernandez pointed out an alternative cause - growth.
"What you have to look at is the increase in driving and in community growth," said Fernandez. "We wrote more tickets and responded to more calls in 2016. There is growth in the area. It's expected that with growth and increased driving there will be an increase in crashes and revenues."
In Fernandez's viewpoint, it is entirely about public safety and changing the way drivers are thinking behind the wheel. And in Apopka, the statistics show a different outcome than the statewide report indicates.
"We have not seen the same results in this community. We are modifying behavior. One of the deadliest crashes is an intersection T-bone. Red light cameras modify driver behavior that would create that type of crash."
It applies in particular to brand new drivers who have not built up years of driver behavior, according to Fernandez.
"We've all been driving for a long time," Fernandez says. "But the 16-year-old who just got their license is just beginning their driving behavior. The next generation will be better drivers. Every generation is going to be better."
They also take exception to the notion that cameras are being put in places with a high volume of traffic as opposed to where there are safety concerns.
"We have intersections that don't produce, but they modify behavior," said Brick. "We are changing the philosophy of stopping at red lights. Either way, we are focusing on community safety. At Sheeler and 441, pedestrian injuries and fatalities are down from 2007-current than from before we installed a red light camera, and the rate of red light infractions are down as well."
Fernandez also points out that RLC's are only one part of APD efforts to improve public safety on the Apopka roads.
"The red light camera is not the pill that cured the disease. It is a component. But pedestrian access, sidewalks, etc. are also a part of the improvement."
He also insists that the revenues from the Red Light Camera Program are not the focus.
"The money is not important. We want the program to pay for itself. And it's the violators who pay for it instead of it being an additional tax."
According to Apopka Public Information Officer Robert Sargent, the net revenue from the red light camera program is $700,626.58 for 2016 which sounds like a lot of money but put into perspective with a budget of over $100 million; it amounts to less than one percent. In fact, the entire category of revenues generated from fines and forfeitures is 5% of the City of Apopka budget revenue.
Here is how it is described in the budget:
FINES AND FORFEITURES - 5% of this year's general fund budget
"The City accounts for revenues generated from traffic tickets and code violations in this category. This source has decreased by approximately .4% due to a decrease in traffic light detection device infractions. The long-term outlook for this source is not good. The state is taking a larger and larger share of the ticket revenues to support the cost of the courts. Therefore this revenue source may be increasing now, but could decrease in the long-term."
And Fernandez can foresee a day where no red light cameras exist.
"It wouldn't hurt my feelings if we had no red light cameras and no one running red lights. It's about the public's safety, not the cameras."
It wouldn't hurt my feelings either, but after spending time with the APD, I better understand their use. And I have to admit; my driving behavior has changed for the good.
Reggie Connell is the Managing Editor of The Apopka Voice.