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Turn those red-light cameras back on | Editorial
Sun-Sentinel (Florida), Nov. 30, 2017

South Florida is starting to see the light when it comes to stopping red-light runners.

Boynton Beach and Pembroke Pines recently joined 20 other cities in restoring red-light cameras to make busy intersections safer.

It’s a hopeful trend worth spreading to cities across South Florida and the state.

Red-light cameras make our roads safer because they make drivers think twice about blowing through a red light. They’re also a practical alternative to stationing law enforcement officers at dangerous intersections to catch motorists who flout the rules.

Who cares if cities make money from the fines, the big criticism raised by state lawmakers. The state makes money from these fines, too.

But that’s not the point. The point is that people behave better when they know someone is watching. And before these cameras arrived, people were running red lights with impunity.

Cities began unplugging their red-light cameras in 2014 after a court said the city of Hollywood could not delegate ticket-writing duties to the vendor who was marketing the cameras and monitoring the videos, in return for a cut of the fines.

The next year, Florida’s 4th District Court of Appeal refused to rehear the ruling, saying the practice was an impermissible delegation of police power. With that, cities began turning off the cameras, fearing more legal headaches and the risk of possible rebates.

But last year, appeals courts backed revised camera programs in Oldsmar, near Tampa, and Aventura in Miami-Dade County. The courts said those programs passed muster because they relied on police officers, not camera company employees, to review the footage and decide who gets ticketed.

This year, the Florida Supreme Court said it will weigh the standoff, a welcome move.

In the meantime, more communities are giving red-light cameras another try.

If you doubt their effectiveness, consider this: After Boynton Beach turned the cameras back on in September, it saw a 77 percent spike in red-light tickets over the same five-week period a year ago, the Sun Sentinel’s Brooke Baitinger reports.

There’s conflicting evidence about the safety effects, we’ll grant you that.

Three years ago, a report by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found red-light cameras had reduced traffic fatalities by 24 percent.

But a report by the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles says accidents at intersections with red-light cameras increased 10 percent during 2016, though pedestrian-involved accidents at those intersections dropped by almost 20 percent.

The state report said the increase in crashes could be explained by more vehicles on the roads, but it might also be that more drivers were hitting the breaks at the last minute, rather than risk a camera ticket.

In the face of dueling statistics, common sense should prevail. And common sense tells us these cameras are the best tool we’ve got to discourage red-light runners.

It’s inarguable that cameras permanently positioned at busy intersections will catch more red-light runners than police officers who happen by.

Letting police officers review flagged footage would address any legal questions. And the increased revenue can pay for the extra costs. If the cities and camera companies make less, so be it. What’s important is public safety, not making money.

Changing the process makes more sense than turning off the cameras.

This isn’t Big Brother using drones or hidden cameras to track our every move.

Red-light cameras offer a practical way to expand law enforcement’s watch over busy intersections. They also make would-be red-light runners reconsider hitting the gas.

Editorials are the opinion of the Sun Sentinel Editorial Board and written by one of its members or a designee. The Editorial Board consists of Editorial Page Editor Rosemary O’Hara, Elana Simms, Andy Reid, Deborah Ramirez and Editor-in-Chief Howard Saltz.