Florida may be known as a tax-friendly State, but a damning report this week reveals leaders are finding innovative and crooked ways to surreptitiously nickel-and-dime citizens in order to enrich public coffers.
Local TV news investigations are often vapid attacks on straw men, publicity stunts that bear no evidence of real investigation or service to the community. But not this investigative report by Tampa TV station WTSP-10. Reporter Noah Pransky took on the State of Florida and the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), looking into why FDOT implemented a subtle policy change — without telling anyone — that shortens the length of the yellow portion of the traffic light cycle in traffic signals statewide.
In Florida, citations for running red lights cost $158 a pop, with $70 of each ticket going straight to the State General Fund.
About 70 communities in Florida currently use surveillance cameras at traffic signal-controlled intersections as a way to ticket motorists who, either deliberately or inadvertently, don’t make it out of an intersection before the light turns red. Camera enforcement in Florida last year produced more than $100 million in revenue.
But, following FDOT’s recent removal of language in the State engineering guide that mandates yellow lights be timed to accommodate either the posted speed limit or the actual speed 85 percent of motorists are traveling — “whichever is greater” — the revenues are certain to jump dramatically:
FDOT’s change in language may have been subtle, but the effects were quite significant. The removal of three little words meant the reduction of yellow light intervals of up to a second, meaning drastically more citations for drivers. A 10 News analysis indicates the rule change is likely costing Florida drivers millions of dollars a year.
Currently, 24 States employ some form of camera enforcement to ticket motorists either for speeding, for running red lights or, in 13 States and Washington, D.C., for both.
A year ago, a Florida judge ruled that red light cameras are unConstitutional. But the losing parties (a number of cities in Pasco County) in that case are appealing the decision, and the cameras have continued to proliferate unchecked.
Almost all the traffic cameras in the United States aren’t even owned by the municipalities and States that profit from their use; they’re owned by private companies that, of course, also profit, since the government gives them a cut of each traffic fine. “It’s a private business that has a vested financial interest in making sure you are portrayed as doing something illegal,” notes one Albuquerque-based citizen advocate.
Conservatives in some State legislatures have introduced bills that aim to ban traffic cameras, saying they’re “insidious” infringements on citizens’ freedom and actually create more fender benders as wary, brake-happy drivers attempt to make last-second stops.
“Red light cameras are a for-profit business between cities and camera companies and the state,” James Walker, of the National Motorists Association, told Pransky. “The (FDOT rule-change) was done, I believe, deliberately in order that more tickets would be given with yellows set deliberately too short.”
The National Motorists Association lists reasons why traffic cameras are ineffective and unConstitutional at its website. Car and Driver also has an article here that, although outdated, features many detailed pictures of various types of traffic cameras, just in case you’d like to get an idea of what to watch out for the next time you’re out on the road.
To give yourself some protection from traffic light cameras, special license plate covers and spray-on coatings that defeat the radar cameras are available. These can be found by using an online search engine. Some companies that sell the covers or sprays include: OnTrack Automotive Accessories (www.ontrackcorp.com), PhotoBlocker Spray
(www.phantomplate.com) and Veil (www.laserveil.com).