A seemingly annual effort to turn off red-light traffic cameras in 65 cities is again on the move in the Florida House.
The House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee voted 12-1 recently to support the measure to repeal the Mark Wandall Traffic Safety Program law -- named after a man killed by a red-light runner, which passed in 2010 and allows red-light cameras statewide.
“They’re really a hidden tax; at the end of the day this is a revenue source that local government has come to depend upon,” says State Representative Anthony Sabatini (R-Eustis), the measure’s sponsor.
“Essentially they’re taxing us, but they’re doing it in sort of a ‘do-gooder’ way,” said Sabatini recently on WKMG-TV in Orlando. “’Oh, well, they’re just trying to stop these bad drivers in our communities.’ But what the evidence has shown is that the red light camera program has actually increased traffic accidents and made us less safe.”
The law, contends Sabatini, punishes working-class people – at $158 per ticket -- for things like taking a right on red, failing to come to a complete stop, or just barely crossing the line when a camera is at an intersection.
“Really, it’s just a cash cow for local government; if they want to raise taxes on the citizens, do it. But don’t pretend that this isn’t some way a hidden tax,”
A similar proposal was approved 83-10 by the House during the 2018 legislative session but failed to gain traction in the Senate. Sabatini points to a study by a Legislative agency to bolster his claim that the cameras reduce traffic safety.
“Since this program has gone into effect, in 2010, there’s been an uptick in rear-end crashes and all different type of crashes, actually,” Sabatini said. “And very, very little evidence to show that people’s behavior is being deterred in any way. In fact, most of the red light cameras are going through repeat offenders.”
As of December 2018, 49 local governments in Florida had red-light cameras in operation, according to the state Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. Two of them are Milton and Gulf Breeze – Milton with three cameras, Gulf Breeze with six.
“You have over 55,000 vehicles traversing through our city each day,” says Gulf Breeze City Manager Samantha Abell. “Our city is a drive-through community; we’re a peninsula and it is the only way our tourists can get to Pensacola Beach, and many of our commuters get to [Interstate] 110.”
Despite Rep. Sabatini’s claim, Abell says revenues generated by the devices are not a hidden -- or any other kind -- of tax.
“There is no citation without someone first violating the law; certainly isn’t a hidden tax because we have signs posted at the beginning of our city and as you leave the city before every intersection,” said Abell. “Trying to deter those who otherwise would try to run a red.”
A House staff analysis projects local governments could see a drop in revenue of an estimated $80 million annually if the measure is ultimately approved. Abell says for Gulf Breeze, it’s a matter of paying for public safety.
“The cost of those police vehicles, fire trucks, and the other public safety equipment would be entirely borne by our 5,884 souls if it were not for the red light camera program.”
Gulf Breeze police, says Abell, do not issue citations for running a yellow light at the intersections with traffic light cameras.
“It is only after the light has turned red, and then the front of the vehicle crosses that line; we also don’t issue a ticket for anyone who turns a right on a red,” says Abell. “So this is for those violators who are taking other people’s lives into their hands, as well as their own.”
The measure has to pass two committees before it can go to the full House during the upcoming session. Sen. Jeff Brandes, [R-St. Petersburg] has filed a Senate version which has yet to go before any committees.