Red-light cameras in Tampa: safety or intrusion?

10/31/11 Olivia Kabat
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The private company American Traffic Solutions administers Tampa’s new red-light cameras. The warning period ends Monday; beginning Tuesday, the city will issue $158 citations for red-light violations caught on tape. According to the city, nearly 4,000 warnings have been issued this month from the 24 cameras in Tampa. But people differ on whether they’re a good or bad thing for drivers.

The intersection safety cameras were proposed to reduce red-light running and collisions. They were activated beginning on October 1st and the rest of the month was considered a “warning period” for all drivers. Tampa Police Department spokesperson, Janelle McGregor says intersections will become much safer.

“Well in the last three years more than half of the red-light crashes that happened in Hillsborough County occurred in the city of Tampa. In 2010 there were 371 of these crashes alone. So we definitely do feel that the cameras are going to be an asset in changing driving patterns and of course saving lives.”

According to McGregor, Florida is the third most deadly state for red-light running crashes. So the Tampa Police Department feels that traffic cameras are needed to change this statistic.

“Research shows that red-light running fatalities were reduced nearly a quarter percent in cities where those cameras were activated. So we feel that here in the city of Tampa they’ll also bring that benefit as well where we’ll see a reduction in traffic crashes and of course, more lives saved.”

But the cameras are controversial. Baylor Johnson with the American Civil Liberties Union says intersection traffic cameras can be an invasion of privacy. The ACLU isn’t completely opposed to the use of these cameras as long as long as the technology is restricted to one purpose only.

“Our issue with red-light cameras is simple. While the invasion of privacy that occurs within these systems may seem minor, as surveillance cameras of any kind become more ubiquitous a further desensitization of privacy rights occurs. Government surveillance techniques created for one purpose are rarely restricted to that purpose alone and every expansion of the data bank that’s collected on citizens opens the door for more and more abuse of that data.”

Although there are many groups that oppose the use of red-light cameras the Florida Department of Transportation supports their use. They now have a 511 Traffic App that features live camera views of crashes, road congestion and other information for travelers. McGregor says making these traffic resources available to drivers will hopefully make Tampa roads safer.

“The city’s goal is to change driving patterns and to reduce the amount of red-light running crashes not necessarily to give tickets. So that’s why this extensive educational push was launched with the activation of the lights. People know that the lights are there so that they can think twice before they run that red-light because their decision can easily be the difference between life and death.”

The intersection safety cameras capture video and photos of traffic violations.

List of intersections provided by City of Tampa:

Eastbound E. Fowler Avenue at N. Nebraska Avenue

Westbound E. Busch Boulevard at N. Nebraska Avenue

Northbound N. Nebraska Avenue at E. Fowler Avenue

Westbound E. Hillsborough Avenue at N. Nebraska Avenue

Northbound N. Nebraska Avenue at E. Hillsborough Avenue

Eastbound E. Hillsborough Avenue at N. 22nd Street

Westbound E. Hillsborough Ave at N 22nd Street

Eastbound W. Waters Avenue at N. Florida Avenue

Southbound N. Florida Avenue at E. Waters Avenue

Westbound W Waters Avenue at N Armenia Avenue

Eastbound W Waters Avenue at N Armenia Avenue

Northbound N. Armenia Avenue at W. Hillsborough Avenue

Southbound N. Himes Avenue at W. Hillsborough Avenue

Northbound N. Lois Avenue at W. Hillsborough Avenue

Eastbound E. Adamo Drive at S. 50th Street.

Northbound S. 50th Street at E. Adamo Drive

Southbound S. 50th Street at E. Adamo Drive

Eastbound W Kennedy Boulevard at N Ashley Drive

Southbound S. Dale Mabry Hwy at W. Gandy Boulevard

Eastbound W. Gandy Boulevard at S. Dale Mabry Hwy.

Southbound S. Manhattan Avenue at W. Gandy Boulevard

Westbound W. Gandy Boulevard at S. Westshore Boulevard

Eastbound W. Gandy Boulevard at S. Westshore Boulevard

Northbound S. Westshore Boulevard at W. Gandy Boulevard

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working smarter to keep us safer

Using technology to enforce highway safety is smart. Not only is it cost effective, it keeps those that are a menace to us all from being rewarded for running lights.

why not synchonize our signals?

I like the fact that these red light cameras will help to ticket folks who run red lights. I get angry by all the red light running here, and those folks need to get penalized. However, I think the city and county also need to look into improving highway technology by synchronizing the traffic signals here. It's frustrating to drive around Tampa, especially roads like Fowler, and get stuck at nearly every single red light. That's a good reason why we have a smog problem, I bet: unnecessary idling! Why can't Tampa and Hillsborough modernize its traffic signals?