Miami State Senator Wants to Cut Red-Light-Camera Fines to $50

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South Florida is full of drivers who treat stop lights like vague suggestions. So the area is also full of red-light cameras, which ticket motorists who plow through intersections with reckless abandon. Those cameras can be annoying — who wants to dish out $150 every time they run a yellow? — but there's some evidence to suggest they can cut down on deadly crashes.

That evidence, however, doesn't give cities the right to charge exorbitant fees for running red lights. And now, Miami state Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez is proposing chopping the red-light-camera fine from $150 for a first-time offense to $50, among other changes to the law.

Cities have long been accused of leaning heavily on red-light cameras to boost revenues — and the company that operates most cameras, Arizona's American Traffic Solutions, itself has been accused of some shady profiteering practices.

"If red-light cameras are indeed about roadway safety and not about a source for municipal revenue, then common-sense reforms are in order for drivers who are being fined and ticketed for red-light-camera violations only, and subsequently getting their licenses suspended or having their license plate withheld for not paying the fine," he said in a statement. Rodriguez filed the bill at the end of December.

The bill would also let first-time red-light offenders attend a driver-safety course instead of forking over a hard-earned Grover Cleveland. Drivers who fail to pay their fines also wouldn't have their licenses suspended under the proposed law, and first-time offenders wouldn't have points assessed against their licenses.

The state's existing laws already mandate that municipalities split the money they make from red-light fines. Typically, counties get to keep only half of each ticket, while other portions go to state general revenue funds and the state's Brain and Spinal Cord Injury Trust Fund. Under the existing laws, if a county or municipal police department issues a $158 ticket, the county keeps $75. Under Rodriguez's amendment, local governments would retain only $24 per ticket.

"It's time we focus on public safety but stop using drivers as a cash register," Rodriguez said in a statement.

In case that sentence seems like grandstanding, Florida governments have given drivers every reason to believe their red-light cameras are little more than schemes to print extra money as they please. In 2013, one Tampa TV station revealed that Florida had secretly shortened yellow-light times in order to ticket more drivers. Now the cameras bring in more than $100 million a year for Florida cities, and even human scam Marco Rubio has called Miami's intersection-surveillance systems "a scam."

The systems also get shadier from there: Most of the nation's stoplight cameras are run by one company, American Traffic Solutions, which has been accused of a bevy of sketchy actions. ATS — which published an amusing video of red-light accidents in Florida last month — has been sued for dishing out illegal fines on its own, and, as of 2011, employed both an ex-Miami-Dade County Commissioner accused of sexually harassing a woman, and a Hialeah businessman banned from working with the government. Courts also can't seem to agree if stoplight cams are even legal, which naturally means some enterprising state legislator tries to outlaw them every year.

Some studies suggest the cameras can reduce right-angle, T-bone crashes, which kill more people than any other kind of accident. As much as you may hate the cameras, they might help keep you and your loved ones alive on the road.

The evidence, however, is conflicting: A 2015-16 Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles report said angle, rear-end, and fatal crashes all increased statewide after red-light cameras were installed.

But the camera systems have rarely, if ever, seemed focused on driver safety alone. The cameras, then, are a classic microcosm of the way Florida politics works: Take a great idea, sew a hose onto it, and suck as much money as possible from its belly until the whole thing dries up.

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