Make city safer with red-light cameras
November 9, 2009
Two years ago Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio scrapped a plan to install red-light cameras on city streets. It was a mistake, but it is encouraging to see the mayor do a U-turn on the decision.
The cameras can save lives and improve traffic flow.
The need for the cameras should be obvious. At almost every busy intersection the running of red lights is flagrant and routine. Drivers race through lights, more concerned with avoiding a slight delay than the lives of other motorists. The running of red lights is a leading cause of accidents in the city.
The city can't afford to post police officers at every dangerous intersection. But it can economically monitor them with cameras.
The cameras continuously film intersections and then automatically report violations, showing the license plates of violators.
The strategy has proved effective in other communities, including New York City, where a red-light camera program reduced violations 73 percent and collisions 41 percent. Cities such as Philadelphia and Seattle have experienced similar reductions.
Some national studies show that while the red-light cameras decrease broadside collisions, they may increase rear-end collisions because drivers slam on the brakes to avoid being filmed.
But such accidents usually diminish as motorists become accustomed to the cameras and change their driving habits. Moreover, rear-enders are not nearly as dangerous as broadside accidents, where there is little metal between the driver and the other car.
It is important that as Tampa pursues a camera program, leaders focus on improving safety, not simply increasing the collection of fines.
There should be a public-education campaign to inform motorists about the cameras, and the city should consider additional moves, such as increasing the length of yellow lights, which can improve traffic flow.
Tampa is behind other communities in recognizing the cameras' value. Orlando and Orange County have programs. The Hillsborough County Commission last year approved an initiative, which is being implemented at busy intersections.
Lakeland, Temple Terrace and Port Richey also are pleased with the success of their programs.
Temple Terrace, which has cameras at two intersections, may add more. Temple Terrace spokesman Michael Dunn told the Tribune's Christian M. Wade that since the cameras were installed, "People are actually stopping for red lights."
Because state law requires an officer to witness an offense before writing a ticket, violators are given a citation under a local ordinance, similar to a parking ticket. Fees are usually $125, but repeat offenders may face fines of $500 or more. The citations can be contested in court, but photographs are difficult to contest.
Some claim the cameras are intrusive, an argument that falls flat during a time when virtually every public action is recorded either by security cameras or personal recording devices.
The city council would have to approve a red-light camera ordinance if the administration moves forward on a proposal. Tampa's leaders should see the benefits of a device that will hold reckless drivers accountable and help bring safety and sanity to city streets.
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