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Tallahassee taxpayers get little back from red-light camera deal

By   /   December 9, 2013  /   No Comments

By William Patrick | Florida Watchdog

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Red light cameras are supposed to make dangerous intersections safer. But at what cost?

CASH MONEY: Critics say red light cameras are all about revenue, even as studies show they could actually increase accidents.

CASH MONEY: Critics say red light cameras are all about revenue, even as studies show they could actually increase accidents.

Recent data from the City of Tallahassee show that in both human and financial terms, red light cameras are costing residents of Florida’s capital city much more than they may realize.

But don’t count on hearing that side of the story at this week’s Red Light Camera Safety Program review at City Hall.

A press release from last week touts the program’s “decreases in injuries and violations,” suggesting the city’s own program is a success.

A close look at the numbers, however, shows something far less compelling.

In the three years since red-light cameras began flashing fines at the city’s seven busiest intersections — aimed at ticketing in 19 different driving directions — there have been only eight fewer side-impact collisions compared to the previous three years without the cameras.

Side-impacts, or right-angle collisions, can be severe. But the decrease, on average less than three per year, shows a loose correlation at best to the program’s professed benefits. In the same period, 53,140 tickets were issued.

Rear-end accidents actually increased by 56 percent during the period, from 231 before the cameras were installed to 360 accidents after the cameras went online in August 2010.

Read more at Tallahassee Reports.

Allen Secreast, Tallahassee’s traffic mobility manager, attributed the sizable uptick in rear-end collisions to “distracted driving.” But that flies in the face of numerous studies cited by the nonprofit motorist watchdog, National Motorist Association.

“The preponderance of independent research (in other words, research that was not funded by ticket camera vendors or units of government interested in justifying camera-based traffic enforcement) has illustrated that ticket cameras typically increase, not decrease, the number of accidents at controlled intersections,” states NMA.

“Red light cameras are all about generating revenue, period,” John Bowman, communications director for NMA, previously told Watchdog.org.

Claims of safety, he said, often are “wishful thinking on the part of red-light camera companies and the part of public officials who support the use of cameras.”

Tallahassee collected $6.3 million in red-light camera fines through the three year program. But only about 20 percent of the money benefited local taxpayers.

The state of Florida claimed $3 million, and Affiliated Computer Services, the camera vendor, was paid $2.8 million to provide and operate the cameras. The remaining $500,000 was deposited into the city’s general revenue fund.

State Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, filed a bill in September that would ban the use of red light cameras throughout Florida.

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William Patrick is Watchdog.org’s Florida reporter. His work has been featured by Fox News, the Drudge Report, and Townhall.com, as well as other national news and opinion websites. He’s also been cited and reposted by numerous state news organizations, including Florida Trend, Sunshine State News and the Miami Herald, and is a member of Investigative Reporters & Editors and the Florida Press Association. William’s work has impacted discussions on education, privacy, criminal justice reform, and government and corporate accountability. Prior to joining Watchdog, William worked for the James Madison Institute in Tallahassee, Fla. There, he launched a legislative news website covering state economic issues. After leaving New York City in 2010, William worked for the Florida Attorney General’s Office where he assisted state attorneys general in prosecuting Medicaid Fraud. William graduated magna cum laude from Hunter College, City University of New York. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife and three young children.