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Joe Henderson: Annual push against red-light cameras has familiar Florida outcome

State Sen. Jeff Brandes called cameras “tools of the devil to tax poor people.”

I don’t like Florida red-light cameras for a lot of reasons, even though I have never gotten a ticket because of this Orwellian eye in the sky.

But lots of other people have received violation notices in the mail, and that strikes me as wrong. If I’m guilty of a motor violation, I want a professional police officer to explain why I’m receiving a ticket. Officers also can use judgment, but cameras only show what they show.

The notion that some guy in front of a computer monitor decides who gets tickets takes automation a step too far. But here we go again. The annual crusade by state Sen. Jeff Brandes to outlaw the cameras throughout Florida has gone down in flames again.

On the one hand, you have to give American Traffic Solutions credit for knowing how to play the game. That’s the company that runs the red-light program. ATS lists 19 lobbyists in Tallahassee. I imagine they were busy.

Shouldn’t that bother people more than it does?

Those lobbyists know what they’re doing, too. They can keep a bill they don’t like stuck in legislative purgatory until the clock runs out.

That’s what happened this year. Brandes postponed hearing his bill in a meeting of the Senate Infrastructure and Security Committee after realizing there wasn’t enough time left to give a thorough discussion.

That basically killed the bill for this year.

Brandes did get in a good zinger though, calling the cameras  “tools of the devil to tax poor people.”

A ticket sets the driver back $158.

The city of Tampa has had cameras about 50 intersections since 2011 and last year collected about $3.3 million in red-light fines. It recently renewed its contract with ATS for five more years, but the City Council meeting where it was debated was contentious.

The final vote was 4-3.

Those in favor say they reduce accidents at intersections caused by red-light runners. Those opposed to the cameras point to the increased number of rear-end collisions because a driver slammed on the brakes at the last second rather than risk a fine.

Other critics say too many tickets are for right-turn violations. That’s an area where a police officer would be able to use judgment, but the camera lens shows what it shows.

Cha-ching! There goes another $158.

There is another part of this issue. Some cities use them, and some don’t.

St. Petersburg and Temple Terrace had cameras but stopped using them. Clearwater uses two, both at high-traffic intersections.

Tampa mayoral candidate David Straz has vowed to stop using the cameras if he wins the April 23 election, which he probably won’t. Opponent Jane Castor favors them.

Red-light cameras are a never-ending source of disagreement in Florida, so I guess the issue to remove them will resurface next year. Maybe ATS should consider adding some more lobbyists, just in case.

Written By

I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.

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