Red light cameras: Guaranteeing safety or city revenue?

November 8, 2017

 

 

 

For the first time since Jan. 1, the city of Boynton Beach turned its red light cameras back on. Commissioner Mack McCray proposed the cameras be reactivated on Aug. 1 during a City Commission meeting.

 

“I’ve paid two red light tickets. I learned the behavior process. I recognize that if I run a red light, I’m going to have to pay money now,” McCray said to his fellow commissioners.

 

According to Boynton Beach Police Officer Sargent Phillip Hawkins, red light running in Boynton increased since the program shut down. He believes red light cameras are a necessity for public safety; however, there is no way to independently verify this statement.

 

“The officers review all of the infractions and they decide at that point whether there is a violation or not,” Hawkins said.

 

Commissioner Joe Casello addressed Hawkins about the increasing number of violations the city is experiencing, questioning if these merely produce revenue or change driving behavior.

 

“In the last four years we now are making $631,000 on red light cameras,” Casello said.

 

Hawkins did not comment on the increase in revenue, but does believe driving behavior changes with the activation of red light cameras. Independent studies done by The University of South Florida (USF) prove this phenomenon.

 

Three City Commissioners voted in favor of reinstating the contract with American Traffic Solutions (ATS), including Mayor Steven Grant.

 

“I am aware of its main uses for public safety; one to help to stop people from running red lights, and to give people notice if they do run a red light,” Grant said in a phone interview.

 

Grant also advocates for the usage of red light cameras because they help identify run-away vehicles using license plate readers.

 

According to a 2008 USF report, red light cameras may be doing more harm than good. The study concluded “cameras actually increase crashes and injuries, providing a safety argument not to install them . . . public policy should avoid conflicts of interest that enhance revenues for government and private interests at the risk of public safety.”

 

“The rigorous studies clearly show red light cameras don’t work,” Barbara Langland-Orban said during the study. She is a professor and chair of health policy and management at the USF College of Public Health.

 

Grant criticized this research, identifying a design flaw which may be skewing the results in favor of those who oppose the red light cameras.

 

“They don’t take into account the number of vehicles going through that intersection. Because the state of Florida’s population is increasing rapidly . . . there’s so many more residents driving through those intersections,” Grant said. “It’s not a percentage of crashes that happen in that intersection, it’s a number.”

 

According to Grant, there has been no study done comparing the percentages of crashes. The number of crashes may rise, but Grant believes increase in population accounts for this.

 

Each ticket costs $158. The Tallahassee General Fund takes $83 per ticket, while Boynton Beach receives $75. The city portion pays for ATS monthly operating fees, officers who review cameras, attorneys for people who challenge red lights and the magistrate, according to Grant.

 

“I would say over 75 percent of it would go [toward operating red light cameras], as a minimum number,” Grant said.

 

Boynton Beach’s FY 2015-2016 Adopted Summary Budget posted on boynton-beach.org lists red light cameras as bringing in $813,515 in revenue for the city. Grant believes this money is appropriated toward the necessary means of operation.

 

Although Grant sees these cameras as being in the best interest of Boynton Beach residents, he is anticipating complications.

 

“I believe there is more of a legislative risk in the sense that people in Tallahassee can . . . make it illegal to have the red-light cameras in the state of Florida,” Grant said.

 

ATS has offered to pay any legal fees associated with the red light cameras.

 

“We all need to slow down, put the cell phones down and pay attention to everything going on around us. Lives depend on it,” the Boynton Beach Police Department said in a 2016 post.

 

The department will be posting videos of red light runners in order to spread awareness of the issue. Boynton Beach is currently the only city in Palm Beach County with active red light cameras.

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