Bring up the subject of red light traffic cameras and you will find that there are just as many people who abhor them as there are those who support their use. Consequently, these cameras have certainly garnered their fair share of controversy, especially with their expanded use over the last few years. Although it may seem like they have been cropping up like dandelions over the last decade or so, they have actually been in use in many countries starting in the mid-1960s. Happily, there is a distant, but twinkling light upon the horizon of the red light traffic camera saga. In a recent, yet brief, news story, it was revealed that the red light traffic camera program in Boca Raton will not be long for this world. This comes on the heels of the years-long, multi-pronged debate. Their use is so controversial that several states have banned their use altogether, while many cities within states that permit their use have banned them locally.
Like Hallendale Beach and many other cities, the use of these cameras is fraught with problems – from the legality of their use, to the tremendous expense that cities incur through the installation, maintenance, monitoring, and issuance of traffic citations which are all done by private companies. Of the several national companies that engage in this business, here in South Florida, American Traffic Solutions (ATS), an Arizona-based company, seems to be the one company that we hear about most when it comes to red light traffic cameras.
“In February 2015, as a result of rulings in lawsuits regarding red-light cameras and other factors, the city sent a letter to American Traffic Solutions terminating its agreement for the administration and operation of red-light cameras in the city,” Boca Raton’s Assistant City Manager Mike Woika said. Previously, I wrote an article regarding the city of Hollywood agreeing to suspend its employment of these cameras, only to have an attorney for ATS make an eleventh-hour plea on behalf of the company to renegotiate the existing contract. It would seem that they are once again trying to hold on to their golden ticket as Woika illustrated in an additional comment. “There are some questions on the final reconciliation of the terminated agreement,” Woika said in an email. “ATS has asked the city for an opportunity to meet and to resolve any outstanding issues and to discuss a possible renegotiation of the previous agreement.”
The standard argument that proponents use to justify the use of these cameras is that they increase safety. There are, however, a multitude of studies that refute these claims by stating that the cameras either don’t reduce accidents and if they do, any slight reduction in side-impact wrecks is negligible due to the increased frequency of rear-end collisions.
This often results because of a panic reaction induced in drivers because of a nominal yellow-light phase. It can be scary to have to unexpectedly decide which poses a greater risk, proceeding with the hope that you make it beyond the light before it turns red or brake unexpectedly with the risk of causing a rear-end collision. In fact, one study posited that with the limited yellow light phase, trying to stop once you register that it is yellow defies the laws of physics. Another major issue with these traffic ticket programs is that they are generally aimed at drivers who chronically run red lights. They don’t take into consideration that usually when someone runs a red light, it is accidental. Studies have shown that an overwhelming majority, 79%, of these violations occur within the first second of the light turning red, and 38% occur within a minuscule quarter of a second.
Overall, it’s been a pretty sweet deal for ATS and other such companies when you consider that their contracts include income not only for those services that they provide, but they also get a portion of the millions of dollars in traffic fines that they issue annually. It is therefore, not surprising to learn that this industry is heavily lobbied by those who have a stake in not only the success, but the proliferation of the industry. They are not alone in protecting their vested interests. The insurance industry also has a lot to gain by seeing these programs remain in effect as it is common practice to raise a driver’s insurance rates even for one traffic ticket. With the thousands of traffic tickets that are written annually, it adds up to a huge payday for insurance companies. In light of this, it is also not surprising to learn that the organization that oversees the insurance industry invariably finds fault in studies that refute the efficacy of red light cameras at reducing car crashes.
Of course, I would be remiss if I failed to mention the tremendous profit that cities and municipalities make off of these traffic tickets. Although the fines from red light traffic cameras vary from sea to shining sea, from $50 in New York City to $500 in California, here in the Sunshine State, the issuing municipality shares the pecuniary gain from these $158 tickets with the state. This is one of the major sticking points for detractors of red light traffic camera use. One such detractor, presidential hopeful Senator Marco Rubio who was recently quoted by MSNBC as saying: “Let me just say, I really don’t like red-light cameras. That’s a big scam… Although State Representative David Kerner has fought on behalf of many drivers who have received these traffic tickets, he was a little more reticent to refer to the cameras’ use as “a scam”. “The general principle of cameras are legal as long as they are used in a way that conforms with state statute and the Constitution,” said State Rep. David Kerner, D-Palm Springs, one of the lawyers who represented motorists. “The program itself isn’t illegal.” He does, however, share the popular belief that cities view these traffic tickets as a source of income. “There is probably some legitimate public safety value to the cameras, but in my five years of suing cities, counties, and the state for improper use of the cameras, it is pretty clear to me from a personal level they are really only concerned by the revenue side of it,” Kerner said.
The use of red light traffic cameras is replete with problems and no matter which side of the issue that you take, you will be hard-pressed to find any studies that can concretely support either side. What is not in question is that it is a highly flawed process. When considering the cost of implementing and maintaining these programs, it is easy to see why it would be beneficial to hire a few more cops who are capable of making sound judgements call regarding traffic infractions. If you have been the recipient of a red light traffic camera ticket, give our office a call at 954-967-9888 for a free consultation.