Florida Red-Light Cameras Bill Represents Victory For Civil Liberties

by Mark Nelson, Policymic.com  |  published on February 23, 2013

This past Valentine’s Day, a Florida legislative committee courted civil libertarians everywhere on an issue of increasing interest to freedom lovers across the country. By a 10-8 vote, they introduced a bill which would ban cities and counties from installing traffic infraction detectors, such as red light cameras (RLC). Conservatives and liberals paired up on each side of the vote.

Those opposing the ban insisted that RLCs free up police officers to better do the work that can’t be automated, have raised tens of millions of dollars for public coffers, and are vital to the safety of residents and visitors. The debate uncovered flaws with all of these assertions.

Problem cases were cited, such as when an officer did not correctly read the tag number on a motorcycle in the photo, leading to an unfortunate owner across the state receiving a ticket. Such incidents reveal how difficult and expensive it can be to appeal these tickets. Cities have been caught reducing yellow light timing to entrap more “paying customers.” Even more insidious conflicts of interest have been uncovered where police chiefs pursued a portion of the $75 processing fees by receiving their own ticket processing franchise upon retirement, after using their public office to help land contracts for companies who market the cameras at significant taxpayer cost.

While RLCs are a cash cow for those companies, debate highlighted the reality that cities and counties are missing out on the bonanza. Revenue from ticket “sales” are often swallowed up via administrative duties by officers and other public workers, consulting & court fees, and other unforeseen expenses. One representative from South Florida was shocked to learn all this; apparently, he’d been told RLCs were the answer to his town’s ballooning budget deficit probably during that sales pitch he’d attended. The state of Florida now locks all public proceeds from RLCs into a special fund for treating brain and spine injuries, anyway, until the question is settled on who should get it.

Another RLC fan chimed in on the argument of these costs, declaring that to him, it was worth losing a million taxpayer dollars if the cameras saved just one life. While we can all appreciate just how noble his sentiment is, the statistics just don’t provide proof for it.

Accidents and traffic fatality rates have fallen in recent years. The trouble is they have been reduced all over, even at intersections not equipped with RLCs and in rural counties where people think these devils are still in the science fiction phase. There are other factors to be considered. It’s likely that in the wake of Cash for Clunkers and the automotive financing free-for-all in the late 2000s, the cars on the road now are on average much newer models, equipped with airbags and easier to maneuver and stop in emergencies.

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