Crashes up at red-light camera intersections

As Florida lawmakers prepare to renew their debate over red-light cameras, a new report from state highway officials shows an increase in vehicle collisions at intersections with the traffic-control devices.

In a survey of 148 intersections in 28 cities and counties across the state, total crashes were up 10.14 percent when comparing data before the cameras were installed and after they were in place, according to the Dec. 31 report from the state Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.

The survey, which used crash data collected between July 2012 and April 2016, also showed:

--- Rear-end collisions were up 11.41 percent.

--- Angle crashes were up 6.72 percent.

--- Accidents involving pedestrians, bicyclists and other "non-motorists" were down 19.64 percent.

--- Collisions involving vehicles running red lights were down 3.14 percent.

--- Crashes involving injuries were up 9.34 percent.

--- Fatalities doubled from five to 10 in the survey, which involved more than 10,700 total accidents.

Highway safety officials cited two factors for the increase, including the fact that Florida motorists are spending more time on the roadways.

Vehicle miles in the state increased 8.32 percent from 2012 to 2015, the report noted, meaning an increased likelihood of more crashes overall.

The second factor is the reliability of the data, with the survey noting that not all crash reports give exact locations, making it more difficult to correlate the accidents with red-light camera intersections.

"The crash analysis should be put into context of the overall complexity of the issue at hand, as many factors may contribute to the change in number of crashes outlined in this report," the survey said.

But the increase in red-light camera intersection accidents follows a trend, with last year's report showing a 14.65 percent rise in a survey of more than 7,400 accidents.

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The new data, which will be reviewed by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Wednesday, will likely be used by some lawmakers to bolster their case for banning the controversial devices.

Sen. Frank Artiles, R-Miami, with support from Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican who oversees the state transportation budget, has filed legislation (SB 178) to eliminate the cameras by 2020.

Reps. Bryan Avila, R-Hialeah, and Blaise Ingoglia, R-Spring Hill, have filed a similar measure (HB 6007) in the House.

Attempts to ban red-light cameras have failed during past legislative sessions.

Artiles used the crash data to try to pass a red-light camera repeal bill last year.

"The purpose of red-light cameras is not about safety. It's about money," Artiles said. "We finally have the proof we need."

Money remains a major factor in the debate over the cameras, with the state and local governments splitting the $158 fines for red-light camera violations.

Fines yielded nearly $60 million for the state budget last year, according to the state Department of Revenue. Cities and counties collected about $53 million, with about half of that going to red-light camera companies.

The number of red-light cameras in use through June 30 dropped by 108 devices, down to 688, from the prior year, according to the highway safety survey of 59 cities and counties using the cameras.

Six local governments dropped the use of the cameras in the last year, the report showed.

But while the number of cameras declined, violations rose by 27.5 percent to 1.23 million during the 2015-16 fiscal year. Citations written personally by law-enforcement officers declined about 12 percent to 50,755, the report said.

American Traffic Solutions was the top company providing red-light cameras in Florida, servicing 46 cities and counties. Xerox and Redflex each had four local government clients, the report said.

The companies earn an average of $4,250 or more per month from each camera, prior reports showed.