Op-Ed: Florida lawmakers should not pull the plug on lifesaving red-light cameras
By Melissa Wandall and Cathy Chase
Dec 10, 2020
(The Center Square) – For the last decade, the Mark Wandall Traffic Safety Act has enabled Florida communities to provide needed protections for motorists, pedestrians, bicyclists, and other vulnerable road users at intersections with traffic lights through the use of red-light camera systems. This law has repeatedly withstood misguided repeal attempts by lawmakers in Tallahassee.
Continued efforts to undermine or ban the use of this vital safety technology, as noted in a December 7, John Haughey article in The Center Square, including House Bill (HB) 6009, are a waste of taxpayers’ money, which bankrolls this “Groundhog Day” debate in the legislature year after year and more appallingly, are dismissive of the violence and injury caused by red-light running crashes and the pain and suffering of surviving family members.
According to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), road users are more likely to be injured in a red-light running incident than in any other type of crash. Fatalities due to red-light running have claimed more than 800 lives each year since 2016. Lacking the protections afforded by a 4,000 pound vehicle, pedestrians and bicyclists are especially endangered if a red light runner zooms toward them. In fact, red-light running incidents killed 53 pedestrians and bicyclists in 2018, the highest number of red-light running fatalities for this group in the last five years.
Using automated photo enforcement technology to curb red-light running is an effective and equitable means to increase safety and protect lives. Enforcement is essential to reducing red-light running, but it is impossible and implausible for police officers to be at every intersection, all the time. Red-light cameras are an efficient countermeasure and help to augment traditional enforcement efforts.
Well-controlled before-and-after studies have found that red-light cameras reduce violations for red-light running and the number of related injury crashes, especially deadly front-into-side crashes, or T-bone crashes. The Florida League of Cities, the National Coalition for Safer Roads, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (Advocates), the Florida Police Chiefs Association, the Florida Sheriffs Association, Orlando Stops and others support use of automated enforcement systems and have repeatedly opposed efforts to ban their use for good reason.
According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), rates of fatal red-light running crashes were 21 percent lower and of all fatal crashes were 14 percent lower at signalized intersections in cities with camera programs. This “spillover” effect amplifies the safety benefits of camera programs. Conversely, rates of fatal red-light running crashes and of all fatal crashes at signalized intersections in 14 cities that terminated camera programs during 2010-14 were 30 and 16 percent higher, respectively, after cameras were turned off than would have been expected had cameras remained. Simply put, the systems save lives.
At a time when national statistics and reports from states across the nation, including Florida, are showing that the motor vehicle crash fatality rate has risen during 2020 despite fewer cars on the roads, it makes no sense to scrap a proven lifesaving technology. Deterrents to reckless driving are urgently needed and they should even be increased. We encourage localities to take a look at a Red-Light Camera Program Checklist, developed by Advocates, AAA, IIHS and the National Safety Council, which provides important guidance to set up a new camera program or improve an existing one.
Rather than proposing legislation for regressive policy that will ultimately harm Florida families, the legislature should focus on advancing policy that improves road safety. As advocates for automated enforcement, we have come to know many who have been forced to bear a lifetime of anguish due to a a preventable crash. Use of red-light cameras will not bring back Mark, but it can prevent other families from mourning the loss of a loved one. The effort to repeal the Mark Wandall Traffic Safety Act must be rejected.
Melissa Wandall is President of the National Coalition for Safer Roads (NCSR) and a resident of Bradenton, Florida. Following the death of her husband in a red-light running crash in 2003, Melissa led the effort to enact the Mark Wandall Traffic Safety Act.
Cathy Chase is President of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety