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St. Petersburg pulls plug on red-light cameras for right reasons

Published: March 8, 2014

The red-light camera program in St. Petersburg has become a victim of its own success. That’s the logic Mayor Rick Kriseman used in persuading the City Council to pull the plug on the controversial program.

In making the economic argument that the program will soon cost more to operate than it generates in fines, Kriseman was able to offer an acceptable exit strategy. Fewer citations means the intersections are safer, and that means it doesn’t make much sense to continue operating a program that achieved its goal and costs the taxpayers money.

After hearing the mayor’s pitch, the City Council voted to remove the cameras no later than September this year.

We support red-light cameras because they work. But we understand Kriseman’s logic, and trust he will make good on his promise to bring the cameras back, or install some other safety measure, if red-light running returns to pre-camera levels.

We also agree with Kriseman’s decision to reject efforts by some red-light runners who want a refund on their fines because the yellow-light cycle was fractions of a second shorter than it should have been. Remember, these are citations given to motorists who enter the intersection after the signal has turned red and more often than not are accelerating to beat the light, putting the lives of innocent motorists at risk.

The cameras were installed at 10 intersections after the city approved them in 2011. They quickly exposed an epidemic of red-light running, which is a particularly dangerous behavior. More than 36,000 citations were issued in the first year. But motorists adjusted their behaviorm, and the number of citations began dropping, from 3,000 a month to roughly 1,000 in January this year.

Statewide, a government report last month found the number of fatalities had been reduced by 50 percent at the intersections with cameras studied in the report. It also found an overall increase in rear-end collisions, but those accidents are far less likely to cause the permanent injury and death that can occur when a red-light runner T-bones another car.

Across the state, the cameras are operating in 24 counties, including Hillsborough and Pasco. In Tampa, the program has been expanded and the number of accidents is decreasing. Those are among the reasons a bill by state Sen. Jeff Brandes, a Republican from St. Petersburg, should be defeated. He questions the safety claims made by advocates of the cameras and says the program amounts to little more than a money grab by local jurisdictions that collect a piece of every $158 citation. He wants a statewide ban on the cameras.

It’s true local jurisdictions have collected millions in revenue from the program, but that’s because motorists are violating the law. As demonstrated in St. Petersburg this past week, local jurisdictions are capable of deciding whether to utilize the technology.

After years of acrimonious debate, the St. Petersburg City Council decided to remove the cameras for the right reasons.