Jeff Brandes files bill to repeal red light cameras in Florida

Today, St. Petersburg-based state Sen. Jeff Brandes filed SB 144, which would fully repeal the red-light camera program in the Florida Statutes.

"We have had red light cameras in Florida for over three years. They were initially sold as safety devices, but I have come to firmly believe that they are now being used as backdoor tax increases," stated Sen. Brandes in a press release. "We have seen municipalities that have installed these devices shorten yellow light times and set arbitrary standards on right turn on red violations. I believe cities will continue to install these devices if left unchecked."

But the locally based legislator acknowledged that the bill might have a tough time getting through the Legislature, as similar bills have been killed in Tallahassee over the past three years.

The law has been challenged in several jurisdictions throughout the Sunshine State, but each time the courts have stated that issuing citations is constitutional. Red light cameras have been in both Tampa and St. Petersburg for a number of years, with the cameras in St. Pete provoking a lot of unrest.

In June, the St. Pete City Council voted to approve a state law that requires cities to set up an appeals process for people who want to contest their tickets. Motorists who are charged with running a red light have to pay a $158 fine.

Rep. Frank Artiles (R- Miami) in the Florida House is offering a companion bill to Brandes. In a press release he said, "I have fought for several years to modify and bring uniformity to the red light camera laws in Florida. While we made some progress last year, I believe that this year we need to look at abolishing these intrusive programs ... I look forward to working with Senator Brandes to abolish these devices in the upcoming Legislative Session."

Earlier this year, WTSP Channel 10 reporter Noah Pransky reported that the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) quietly changed the state's policy on yellow intervals in 2011, reducing the minimum number of seconds below federal recommendations. He reported that the rule change was followed by engineers, both from the FDOT and local municipalities, collaborating to shorten the length of yellow lights at key intersections, specifically those with red light cameras.

One prominent critic of such cameras in St. Pete is Matt Florell, the man behind St. Pete Polls. He said he has little hope that the cameras will go away soon, but does hope that the state is finished with adjusting the yellow light times.

"All we can really hope for next legislative session on this front, is a way to hold cities accountable for short yellow signal times, and maybe a ban on right turn on red enforcement by cameras," he told CL. "Short yellow lights have been a boon to the programs statewide, inflating citation rates by almost 40 percent in most municipalities that have the cameras. Right turn on red enforcement also makes up a very large percentage of citations, yet right turn on red crashes are extremely rare (only 0.36 percent of all crashes in St. Pete) and almost never result in severe crashes."

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