Garcia Proposes Red Light Camera Repeal

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Tallahassee, FL - A law passed just last year that lets local governments install red light cameras and ticket drivers based on the pictures would be repealed under a bill filed by Sen. Rene Garcia.

The law is an “unwarranted, big-brother initiative,” Garcia, R-Hialeah, said in a statement Tuesday announcing he had filed the bill (SB 672).

If it were to pass, the measure would require cameras be removed from state roads by next July. At least 50 communities in Florida had red light cameras last year.

The main objections have been that the cameras violate drivers’ civil liberties, a fear of wrongful ticketing, and that they gouge unsuspecting residents. It took eight years to pass the measure over those objections.

“We need to ensure that citizens are treated fairly, and this bill will protect Floridians from intrusive snapshots and inaccurate ticketing,” Garcia said. “Local governments have used these cameras to tax their citizens under the disguise of safety.”

His move to repeal the law, signed by Gov. Charlie Crist last summer, may have a tough time with talk of property tax cuts and a deficit at the state level. The state’s Revenue Estimating Conference projected last year that the bill would bring $29 million this year, and nearly $100 million next year into state coffers, and would provide about $75 million to local governments over two years.

The repeal proposal puts Garcia at odds with the insurance industry, which says the cameras reduce fatalities.

A study released this month by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that red light cameras saved 159 lives over a four year period ending in 2008 in a study of 14 major U.S. cities.

"The cities that have the courage to use red light cameras despite the political backlash are saving lives," institute president Adrian Lund said.

The researchers found that during the 2004-2008 period, per capita red light-related fatal crashes dropped 35 percent over a previous four year period during which they didn’t have cameras, a bigger drop than in cities that didn’t add cameras during the time.

The insurance industry group study has been dismissed by opponents of the red light cameras. In fact, Garcia pointed to a National Motorists Association study that found cameras didn’t reduce the number of accidents.

Melissa Wandall believes they do save lives. She spent years pushing for the law, called the Mark Wandall Traffic Safety Program after her husband, who was killed by a red light runner. Complaints about intrusions on liberty or inconvenience are lost on her; the loss of civil rights doesn’t compare to the death of her husband, she said.

“If we’ve got a system that’s going to save lives, people have to stop complaining,” Wandall said in an interview Tuesday. “My daughter will never know her dad because of a red light runner. This is common sense. This is not hurting anybody. Red light running hurts people.”

According to the state Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, in 2008 there were 76 deaths in crashes in Florida where someone ran a red light. That’s about 3 percent of all fatal accidents, the sixth highest cause of traffic deaths in the state.

The law passed last year pre-empted red light camera penalties to the state, rather than allowing local communities to decide what the penalties would be on a town-by-town basis. A state law also was necessary, backers said, because the courts were increasingly finding that local laws were invalid. State law required an officer to observe a red light runner to have a traffic violation, so cities were getting around that by enforcing code violations. Those code violation fines were invalidated in a couple of Florida cities, boosting the argument for a statewide uniform red light penalty enforceable by camera.

Motorists pay more than $150 if caught on camera running a red light.

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