New Report Outlines Problems with Red-Light and Speed Cameras

Florida PIRG Education Fund

TALLAHASSEE, FL – A new research report released today outlines problems with the growing trend among cities to outsource traffic enforcement to red-light and speed camera vendors.

“Too many cities wrongly sign away power to ensure the safety of citizens on the roads when they privatize traffic law enforcement. Automated traffic ticketing tends to be governed by contracts that focus more on profits than safety.” said Brad Ashwell of Florida PIRG, the Florida Public Interest Research Group. “That shouldn’t happen,” Ashwell added.

The report, titled Caution: Red Light Cameras Ahead; The Risks of Privatizing Traffic Law Enforcement and How to Protect the Public finds that approximately half of states have enabled the use of automated traffic law enforcement.  Municipalities in these states contract with private companies to provide cameras and issue citations to traffic violators. Citizens have often objected to privatized forms of traffic enforcement and many municipalities have found themselves in legal trouble when they attempt to change or update these contracts. Traffic engineering alternatives, such as lengthening yellow lights, are often the best way to reduce injuries from red-light running. However, those solutions too often get ignored because contractors and sometimes municipalities are more focused on increasing revenue from tickets.

For example, the town of Davie is discovering the dangerous side of privatizing law enforcement.  The town signed a contract with American Traffic Solutions, the Arizona-based vendor that would install and operate the system.  When members of the local government opposed using red-light the camera vendor forced them to acquiesce under the threat of costly legal action.  Under the current contract, the town is required to pay the company nearly a million dollars a year to operate the system.

In light of likely legislation to prohibit red light cameras in Florida, and in view of lawsuits threatened by camera companies against several U.S. cities that have terminated their automated ticketing programs, our guess is that many city administrators across Florida will wish they had read the warnings in this Florida PIRG report before signing similar contracts, said Gary Biller, Executive Director of the National Motorists Association (NMA).

The report recommends stronger guidelines to ensure that automated traffic enforcement programs must focus on improving road safety, rather than ticket revenue.  Deals between local governments and traffic camera vendors should:

  • Put public safety first in decisions regarding enforcement of traffic laws – this includes evaluating privatized law enforcement camera systems against alternative options without regard to potential revenues.
  • Ensure that contract language is free from potential conflicts of interest.
  • Avoid direct or indirect incentives for vendors that are based on the volume of tickets or fines.
  • Retain public control over traffic policy and engineering decisions, including cancelling contracts if the public is dissatisfied.
  • Ensure that the process of contracting with vendors is completely open, with ample opportunity for public participation and each ticket listing where to find online data about automated ticketing for each intersection.

“Florida has already seen controversy over the use of red-light cameras.  We need to learn from our mistakes here and elsewhere,” said Ashwell.

The report can be accessed by clicking here.