The use of cameras catch drivers running through red lights remains a hot topic in Florida, according to a recent report in Stateline, a publication of the Pew Charitable Trusts. Advocates say red-light cameras improve safety at intersections. Critics say the devices are a money grab by state and local governments.

Florida drivers who were caught by red-light cameras paid more than $100 million in fines in 2012. State Senator Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg, who is proposing a statewide ban on the cameras, thinks that they don’t promote safety and are instead “a backdoor tax increase.”

An audit conducted last year in St. Petersburg showed a decline in the number of dangerous side-impact collisions at intersections with red-light cameras. On the other hand, rear-end collisions went up, as more drivers stopped short to avoid going through a red light.

Polls Show Support for Cameras

A 2011 poll showed that two-thirds of drivers in 14 cities with red-light cameras favored them. However, nine states prohibit red-light cameras, and several others have considered removing them.

In fiscal year 2013, Florida collected 53 percent of the revenue from red-light cameras in 76 jurisdictions, or about $52 million. That’s three times more than the state collected in 2011.

“The state shouldn’t be counting on people to violate laws in order to pad their budgets,” state Sen. Brandes said. “If the state needs additional tax revenue, the legislature needs to be fair and honest about how it gets that revenue.”

But Charles Territo, spokesperson for American Traffic Solutions, offered a counter view. He said that there would be no revenue generated from red-light traffic cameras if drivers obey the law and stop on red.”

Longer Yellow Lights

Some people prefer longer yellow lights to give drivers more time to slow down and stop. According to researchers at Virginia Tech, increasing the length of a yellow light by even a half-second can significantly reduce the number of accidents at an intersection.

The length of yellow lights will increase at all intersections with red-light cameras in Florida by the end of 2013, and at all intersections by June of 2015, said Fred Heery of the Florida Department of Transportation.