Two bills to prohibit red-light traffic cameras failed to pass Florida's legislature this spring. And now Miami-Dade officials have taken the initiative to place an additional 150 cameras at intersections throughout the county.
The Miami-Dade County Department of Procurement Management and a selection committee are now reviewing applications from five companies vying to provide the red-light cameras. The committee will recommend its top pick to the county commission, which will vote on a vendor in November.
"The County received five proposals to its solicitation for a red-light camera program," said Miriam Singer, assistant director for the Internal Services Department. "Those proposals are under review and evaluation. The county's program is to be deployed in phases, with the initial implementation of 50 cameras. Additional cameras will be added in increments of up to 50 cameras, to a total of 150 cameras."
Proponents of the cameras cite research from the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability (OPPGA), which shows that the number of fatal car crashes has fallen almost 50 percent at intersections where the cameras were installed. Hundreds of Floridians die each year because of red-light runners.
Stop On Red Florida, an organization founded by Melissa Wandall, who lost her husband Mark to a red-light runner in 2003, supports intersection safety cameras. The organization believes the technology has played a significant role in decreasing the number of fatalities in Miami, which has some of the nation's deadliest intersections. According to the organization's website:
"Red-light running is the leading cause of urban crashes; pedestrians and occupants in other vehicles account for about half of the deaths in red-light running crashes... Most communities will experience a reduction in red-light running violations ranging from 20-87% [by installing safety cameras], within about an eighteen month time frame of when an Intersection Safety Camera program is implemented."
However, opponents of the red-light cameras, like Rep. Frank Artiles of Miami, who filed one of the bills to prohibit the technology, is skeptical of the safety effectiveness of the cameras, especially in regard to drunk drivers.
"Do you think people who who are intoxicated are going to pay attention to red-light cameras, or are they going to blow through the intersection?" he asked critically. "You cannot legislate stupidity or negligence."
Opponents believe the cameras are just a tool for the state and local governments to beef up their budgets. Last year alone, Florida motorists paid nearly $119 million in red-light ticket fines. Artiles believes this beefing-up is particularly true for Miami-Dade, which has a huge deficit. Though the county keeps a significant portion of the money, much of it is remitted to the state or used to pay the local camera vendors.
Florida law does not allow camera providers to be paid according to how many infractions are detected. Instead, municipalities pay the providers of the technology a flat rate of about $4,500 per camera every month. Whichever company lands the deal to install the additional 150 cameras throughout Miami-Dade stands to gain millions each year.
Critics of the traffic technology also argue that the cameras haven't decreased collisions, citing other findings by the OPPGA, which showed that collisions actually increased by 12 percent at intersections where the cameras were installed.
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"There are more rear-bumper collisions because people slam on their brakes when they see the red-light cameras," Artiles said matter-of-factly. "I tried to amend the transportation package to have more accountability to counties and municipalities, forcing them to provide crash data or remove the cameras altogether. The amendment was removed, and today cities and counties have reduced yellow-light timing and have no penalties for bad behavior."
According to Stop On Red Florida, though, before any camera becomes operational, the municipality has to ensure that the signal timing, including the length of yellow lights, complies with federal guidelines. Also, before motorists can be ticketed, there has to be photographic proof that shows they entered an intersection after the light turned red. No citations can be handed out to people who entered the intersection during a green or yellow light even if they are waiting for oncoming traffic to stop before they can make a left-hand turn.
Currently, citations cost $158, with $75 going to Miami-Dade and the other $83 going to the state -- which places $70 in the General Revenue Fund, puts $10 toward trauma treatment efforts, and gives $3 to the Brain and Spinal Cord Injury Trust Fund, which helps support the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis.