Red-light camera debate heats up again

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A continuous hot topic in Florida for years, the widely debated use of red light cameras could soon be phased out as new legislation tries to make its way through the Florida Senate.

This week Senate Transportation Chairman Jeff Brandes filed legislation that would take down red-light cameras across the state.

The issue comes down to the debate between whether public safety is being enhanced, or if the state and local government are just wasting money.

The city of Jacksonville still has about 40 red-light cameras installed, while other cities around the state have cut the program because too few tickets have been issued.

"The purpose of this program is public safety, is to reduce the number of traffic crashes at busy intersections," Jacksonville Sheriff's Office Director of Patrol and Enforcement Michael Edwards said.

The cameras were introduced in Aug. 2012, eventually jumping to 40, with the goal of reducing injuries and fatalities across the city.

Now with legislation calling for the cameras to come down, State Rep. Lake Ray said it's about time.

"A number of cities and counties, actually we're going in and they were changing the timing, so you might have had a three-second yellow light and they would change that to 2 1/2 seconds to get people ticketed," Ray said.

Ray said those tickets started adding up, putting nearly $80 million in the budget as a result of ticket infractions.

But he said that the big problem is that the cameras are often only at one part of a busy intersection, and that a recent study done by the Florida Office of Accountability showed the cameras are actually doing more harm than good.

"There were nine times as many accidents, rear-ended accidents, that had occurred and there wasn't any evidence to show that we are reducing accidents," Ray said.

Ultimately the legislation said the cameras were only installed for cash flow for the government and the company that installed them, which is why Ray said citizen input is necessary.

"If we need money from the citizens, then we need to make the case to the citizens of the state of Florida and say this is how we want to allocate these funds. And get the citizens input and go to the citizens, instead of finding a way to be clever about how are going to collect some money," Ray said.