It's Time for Clearwater to Use Red Light Cameras
If you operate a motor vehicle in Pinellas County, this scene plays out every day: a driver, either impatient with traffic or late for an appointment, runs a red light.
All incidents of red light running are frightening, but most only leave other drivers breathlessly shaking their heads in disbelief as the offender somehow avoids colliding with others.
But some are catastrophic, resulting in death, disfigurement or permanent disability.
Last week's accident involving Clearwater City Councilmember John Doran puts red light running in a different perspective. Many believe that habitual offenders are responsible for most red light running. But as Doran's accident has proven, honest law-abiding citizens are capable of mental lapses whose consequences can be equally severe.
"Where are the cops when you need them" is a common refrain among those who witness red light running. The Clearwater Police Department has recently equipped their patrol cars with digital video cameras whose movies can be used as evidence to prosecute red light runners. But police officers must witness the offense in order to issue a citation.
Unfortunately, Clearwater can't afford to hire enough patrol officers to devote to monitoring intersections. But the City Council did endorse the State Legislative initiatives of the Florida League of Cities, one of which called for the passage of the Mark Wandall Traffic Safety Act. That bill, which would allow the use of red light cameras as sufficient evidence to issue points-carrying traffic citations, died in committee in the State Senate last year and is being reintroduced this year.
While Clearwater waits for the State Legislature to take action, other municipalities and counties are making an effort to control their own destinies and those of their citizens. Hillsborough County Commissioners will consider a red light camera ordinance next month, and the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office has already identified 10 intersections that would be the first priority for their installation and use according to reports published in the Tampa Tribune. The City of Port Richey in Pasco County is also making plans to install red light cameras at three of their most accident-prone intersections.
Citations issued under municipal or county ordinance do not count toward points on a driver's license, nor are they reported to insurance companies. The value of municipal red light camera citations would be to serve as financial deterrent for habitual offenders and as an educational tool for otherwise law-abiding drivers who occasionally suffer mental lapses like Doran's.
It's time for Clearwater to undertake a red light camera ordinance to augment the public safety campaigns CPD already conducts, and Councilmember John Doran is the right person to initiate it. Of those sitting on the dais, he best understands how red light running can happen, and he best knows the fright, the bone-chilling sounds, the bruising and the injuries that red light running can cause.
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