Tallahassee Taxpayers Get Little Back from Red-Light Cameras

Published December 10, 2013

Red-light cameras are supposed to make dangerous intersections safer. But at what cost?

Recent data from the City of Tallahassee, Fla., show that in both human and financial terms, red-light cameras are costing residents of Florida’s capital city much more than they may realize.

But a recent City Hall news release touts the program’s “decreases in injuries and violations,” suggesting the city’s program is a success.

A close look at the numbers, however, shows something far less compelling.

In the three years since red-light cameras began flashing fines at the city’s seven busiest intersections — aimed at ticketing in 19 different driving directions — there have been only eight fewer side-impact collisions compared to the previous three years without the cameras.

Side-impacts, or right-angle collisions, can be severe. But the decrease, on average less than three per year, shows a loose correlation at best to the program’s professed benefits. In same period, 53,140 tickets were issued.

Big Increase In Rear-End Crashes

Rear-end accidents actually increased by 56 percent during the period, from 231 in the three years before the cameras were installed to 360 accidents after the cameras went online in August 2010.

Allen Seacrest, Tallahassee’s traffic mobility manager, attributed the sizable uptick in rear-end collisions to “distracted driving.” But that flies in the face of numerous studies cited by the nonprofit motorist watchdog, the National Motorist Association.

“The preponderance of independent research (in other words, research that was not funded by ticket camera vendors or units of government interested in justifying camera-based traffic enforcement) has illustrated that ticket cameras typically increase, not decrease, the number of accidents at controlled intersections,” states NMA.

“Red light cameras are all about generating revenue, period,” John Bowman, communications director for NMA, previously told Watchdog.org.

Safety Claims = ‘Wishful Thinking’

Claims of safety, he said, often are “wishful thinking on the part of red-light camera companies and the part of public officials who support the use of cameras.”

Tallahassee collected $6.3 million in red-light camera fines through the three-year program. But only about 20 percent of the money benefited local taxpayers.

The state of Florida claimed $3 million, and Affiliated Computer Services, the camera vendor, was paid $2.8 million to provide and operate the cameras, with the remaining $500,000 deposited into the city’s budget.

State Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) filed a bill in September that would ban the use of red light cameras throughout Florida.