Red light camera operators issued a record number of violations to Florida drivers last year — which means more revenue for the state and local governments.
But the number of crashes at red light camera intersections also increased.
That was made clear this week when Larry Gowen, chief performance officer for the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, presented an overview of the state’s red light camera programs to a legislative transportation committee.
According to Gowen, 59 counties and municipalities issued more than 1.2 million red light camera violations last year — a 27 percent increase from fiscal year 2014-15. Only 51,775 red light moving violations were issued by actual law enforcement officers.
Since the department began keeping records in 2012, crashes at red light camera intersections have increased by 10 percent since before the cameras were installed at the same intersections.
Angled crashes increased 6.7 percent, rear-end crashes were up 11.4 percent, and crashes involving “incapacitating injuries” jumped 26.8 percent.
More than 5 million camera violations were issued during the period.
Gowan said the crashes could be the result of more motorists driving more vehicle miles.
State lawmakers authorized red light cameras in 2010 with the express intent of improving public safety. But that hasn’t happened according to Sheila Dunn, communications director for the National Motorists Association.
“Red light cameras don’t lead to better public safety,” Dunn told Watchdog.org. “We believe it’s a money grab. It’s taxation by citation,” she said.
Gowan dodged questions from committee members about red light camera financial incentives, and admitted that the state doesn’t inquire, much less intervene, as to where local governments place the cameras — whether at the busiest intersections or at the most dangerous intersections.
“We did a $90,000 survey of 300 intersections with the taxpayers’ money to find the most dangerous intersections in the city, but the cameras didn’t go to those intersections. They went where the traffic was,” said state Rep. Wengay Newton, Sr., a St. Petersburg Democrat.
St. Petersburg’s red light camera program was discontinued, Newton added.
Gowan also told the legislators he didn’t know if the reason 11 Florida jurisdictions dropped their red light camera programs was because of expensive contracts with private vendors.
By law, local governments must procure the services of a red light camera vendor. The contract term generally ranges from three to five years, and local governments typically pay between $4,250 and $4,750 per camera, per month, according to the Office of Policy Analysis and Governmental Accountability.
“I’m struck by the number of questions being asked here and the lack of information that the survey is yielding,” said state Rep. Kristin Diane Jacobs, D-Coconut Creek.
Red light camera violations become uniform traffic citations, or tickets, 60 days after they’re issued to drivers. The cameras involve third-party private vendors, like American Traffic Solutions, that some courts have determined to perform unconstitutional policing duties.
Last year’s 1.2 million red light camera violations were $158 each. Gowan explained the revenue break-down:
$70 is remitted to the state general revenue fund.
$75 is retained by the local jurisdiction that issued the violation.
$10 is forwarded to the Department of Health emergency medical fund.
$3 goes to a state brain and spinal cord trust fund.
The department’s summary report noted that more drivers than ever are opting to contest their red light camera violations. A record 383,583 violations went unpaid last year.
Still, Gowan said the state portion of red light camera revenue increased nearly 11 percent to $70.2 million.
“We recommend that drivers fight red light camera tickets,” Dunn said. “It’s the only way to get things changed in the traffic court system.”
“If the legislature doesn’t act, the issue will probably end up in the Florida Supreme Court,” she added.
William Patrick is Watchdog.org’s Florida reporter. His work has been featured on Fox News and the Drudge Report, among other national sites. He’s also been cited and reposted by numerous statewide news organizations.