Red-light cameras out
Boca Raton has made the smart but belated decision to end the city’s red-light camera program.
During his report near the end of last week’s city council meeting, City Manager Leif Ahnell said Boca would end the program after yet another anti-camera court ruling. This time, the 4th District Court of Appeal in West Palm Beach declined to grant Hollywood a rehearing in a case that led the court last October to rule that city’s camera program unconstitutional. The court also declined to certify the case to the Florida Supreme Court. Unless another appellate court upholds a similar red-light program, the ruling is in effect statewide.
The problem in Boca Raton and cities with similar programs is that the camera company—American Traffic Solutions, in Boca’s case—issues the citation. Under Florida’s uniform traffic law, the court said, only certified law enforcement officers can issue traffic citations.
Despite the cities’ claims that the programs were all about safety, it appeared that they were all about money. The programs sprouted during the recession, when property tax revenue dropped sharply. American Traffic Solutions and other vendors sold cities and counties on the idea that they could shift sworn officers to other duties.
But Florida’s new state constitution in 1968 abolished municipal courts and created statewide traffic laws. Cities couldn’t set up red-light camera traps any more than they could set up speed traps. After adverse court rulings on that point, the Legislature in 2010 created statewide rules for red-light programs—and took the largest share of the fine for the state.
Mayor Susan Haynie was on the losing side when the Boca Raton council approved the camera program. In an interview, she said her concern had been that even if the cameras cut down on crashes from running red lights, they could increase the number of rear-end crashes from drivers hitting the brakes to avoid a ticket. Indeed, whether the cameras improve safety remains in doubt.
All along, Haynie has argued that there’s a better alternative: extend the yellow light and keep the red light for a full second in all directions, to clear the intersection. She would like city staff to analyze data from high-risk intersections and recommend ideas.
Haynie said there would be “no fiscal impact” from ending the program because the city didn’t lose money. That may or may not be true. There’s talk of class-action lawsuits on behalf of all drivers who got tickets under programs now judged to have been illegal. Boca Raton could get caught up in that litigation. Delray Beach never started a program. Boynton Beach is one of the few cities that assign a sworn officer to check alleged violations.
Cities have many legal ways to make roads safer. Of course, they had them several years ago. Apparently, that sort of safety didn’t come with potential profit.