Red Light Cameras: The Latest Govt Rip-Off

April 17th, 2011 at 11:20 pm | 72 Comments |

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Libertarians have mobilized this year against perceived government over-reach. Some of the causes seem excessive: opposition to seatbelt laws and carbon monoxide detectors in rental buildings.

But sometimes the libertarians get it right. And there’s a good case that they have gotten it right in their latest cause: the campaign against red light cameras.

These are cameras which are attached to the lights at a traffic intersection. They photograph the cars that pass through when the light is illuminated and allow for tickets to be issued to the violators. In theory this is so traffic monitoring can occur 24/7 but these cameras might not be the most effective way to reduce traffic violations.

In Florida, a coalition of libertarians, Ron Paul fans, Tea Partiers, and even civil rights advocates has joined to oppose these devices. They argue that cameras are not an especially effective way to enhance safety. They point to data that suggests that red light infractions can be better reduced simply by increasing the length of time the yellow light is illuminated. They suggest with much force that the cameras are intended, not to protect motorists, but to raise revenue for local governments.

On April 12th, a series of anti-red light camera protests were held in intersections across Florida:  in Orlando, Cocoa Beach, Tampa, and Tallahassee.

Henry Bentley is the main organizer and founder of the website, a ground zero for red light camera opponents. The website has been campaigning against the cameras since February of 2010 and Bentley himself has been protesting since 2010 as well:

“One year and three weeks ago [interviewed on April 12, 2011] I organized my first protest. It consisted of me and my daughter. An hour later, another guy calls me and joins me, then the news media showed up.”

Bentley explained that the issue first got the interest of some members of the Florida Libertarian Party, and that from there it came under to the attention of Campaign for Liberty (Also known as C4L). Campaign for Liberty is the 501(c)4 outgrowth of Ron Paul’s 2008 presidential campaign:

“A month ago we organized another statewide protest. We got in touch with the Libertarian Party. Through the Libertarian Party, Campaign for Liberty contacted me.”

That was when everything changed: “With Campaign for Liberty we also picked up four lobbyists. I would say Campaign for Liberty has been a tremendous shot in the arm to our efforts.”

The Libertarian Party took a lead in organizing the actual April 12th protests. Libertarian Adrian Wyllie described how the issue crossed ideological boundaries:

“Someone just put an idea out there on Facebook, and all these groups just gravitated towards it.” As Adrian put it: “People don’t like [the] camera.”

Opponents of red light cameras want to see the success of several different pieces of legislation. Florida House Bill 4087 and Florida Senate Bill 672 would both effectively ban red light cameras. They also would like to see success for House Bill 149 which would extend yellow light time.

Campaign for Liberty lobbyist John Hallman spoke about how the law designed to ban the cameras was most likely to progress.

“Expectations are that it will pass in the House, the Senate is where we are having the more difficult time. The Senators like the revenue source that comes from these red light infractions.”

Researchers at the University of South Florida have produced several papers arguing that extended yellow lights do more for safety than red light cameras.

Dr. Etienne Pracht explains:

It is important for the public at large and federal, state, and local officials to understand that motor vehicle safety is advanced through evidence-based methods. Attempts to generate revenue through traffic citations are directly contrary to public safety since infractions are increased by improper roadway engineering, creating hazards and expense for the public

Dr. Barbara Langland-Orban also believes the evidence used to support the cameras is weak:

[the] Federal Highway Administration does advocate for cameras; however, they use unscientific research to conclude cameras are effective.  Their own study excluded the cost of fatal crashes (which increased after camera use), in order to claim a minor economic benefit from camera use.

On the pro-camera side, Florida’s Hillsborough County Sheriff’s office tells FrumForum that since the introduction of the cameras, accidents have been reduced from 395 in 2008 to 270 in 2010. But anti-camera activists frequently cite the real world example of the state of Georgia, where some news reports claim that just extending the yellow light time reduced infractions by 80%.

What’s most exciting about the Florida debate is that it’s being carried on with credible evidence to support ideological convictions. Opposition to the cameras may originate in libertarian principle, but if the opposition prevails, it will prevail with arguments intended to be convincing to all.

Some of these libertarian efforts may be more useful at fostering good government than others, but if they are able to achieve real success on the issue of red light cameras, then there will be evidence that the tea party movement can be a force for legislative good and good public policy.

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72 Comments so far ↓

  • nhthinker


    The Obama supporting “libertarians” (an oxy-moron if I ever have seen one) want to smoke pot and ignore police (because, to them, most Americans including police are idiots). These “libertarians” won’t put a target on the size of government they want: presumably, they just want to shift spending from military to social programs.

    Real libertarians like Ron Paul want substantially less federal government and know that only way too get that is to curtail spending dramatically.
    TRS does not seem to be a real libertarian to me.

    I consider myself a libertarian- but I don’t mind if government uses instant technology to catch people in the act of breaking the law on the public streets. Constant Big Brother watching and recording when no crime is being committed is to be railed against.

  • rbottoms

    Real libertarians like Ron Paul want substantially less federal government and know that only way too get that is to curtail spending dramatically.

    Yeah, love that common sense libertarianism.

    WASHINGTON — With American miners still succumbing to black lung disease, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) has proposed a plan to reduce the number of such deaths through the stricter regulation of mining sites. But at a congressional committee meeting last week, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) voiced concern that the new regulations may not be worth the cost to coal companies — even though pockets of his state have been designated black lung hot spots by the federal government. [/blockquote]

  • Iamm

    Can anyone say “target practice”? I can’t wait until they are in my area!

  • Iamm

    Willy / TRS / et all, I don’t know why you continue to waste your time on comments here. At some point in time y’all will realize this… You will always lose, with “them”. Especially when you have to lower your cognitive faculties and abilities to the same level as otter, buttoms, rab, etc. They will beat you will their brain-less experience every single time. They even high-five each after declaring “victory”. Like we’re still in high school or watching the game. Their thinking doesn’t go beyond “Sounds good, is good, PERIOD” Simplest way sum them up. They see A+B=C, the equation is short, simple, and good… Obvious from some comments here. They aren’t concerned with any other factors or variables… i.e. Willy/TRS dissent. Even though these variables may contradict, change, or add to any part of the equation.

    I say let them go, allow for their continued grade school thought process implosion. The S&P news… pffft. Remember you need to stoop to their level, kindergarten explanation. Sit back, laugh at them as they continue to create their own problems (and ours unfortunately) then continue to propose smug solutions. Oh, and, just stay one step ahead of them before every turn… you know this, no need to preach.

  • WillyP

    you’re certainly correct. i’ve said before it’s my character flaw that keeps me commenting. most people have a shameful habit that is part of their life – this is mine.

  • Rabiner


    “And tell me how a camera can be sure of who is driving a car, or what the situation is.”

    You seem very skeptical about red light cameras for a number of reasons that are valid concerns. Hopefully I can give some information about how the system works that can alleviate some of those concerns.

    Regarding ‘the situation’ of a person running a red light, the evidence presented in court pertaining to the incident is the same that the police officer views before deciding to issue a ticket. It gives them a video of the incident from 6 seconds before running the red light to 6 seconds after running the red light. It uses sensors on the ground to determine speed of vehicle and they know exactly how far after the light turned red that you entered the intersection. Red light cameras are typically calibrated to not go off if you are moving under the speed of 15 miles per hour so they do not go off when you make a right hand turn on red or are trying to make a left hand turn as the light turns from yellow to red but were in the cross walk.

    Because they have video evidence, sometimes they do not pursue a ticket if they feel the person was warranted in running the red light (a car was right behind them and they ran it in fear of a fender bender is a typical reason).

    Identification of individuals is done by using DMV records. If identification cannot be determined a ticket is not issued to the owner of the vehicle.

    • pnumi2

      Doesn’t the insurer of your auto want to know who will be driving it? Your wife, your daughter, etc? If you can’t tell the police who was driving, maybe your insurance company will be notified and you’ll be cancelled.

  • think4yourself

    Amazing the amount of animosity a little article about red light cameras spawn.

    I like Libertarian thought, just often don’t agree with it in practice (yep, I think there is a place for the Food and Drug Administration, and don’t think that a nation where everyone police’s themselves and settles all their arguments with their own gun is effective in a society that has non-rural elements).

    I don’t personally like the idea of red-light cameras, and especially for the purposes of increasing revenue, but do like the one that was recently installed about a mile away at a very busy intersection that has had dozens of crashes in the last year or so and it’s also an intersection that school kids cross on their way to school. So if that camera slows down one idiot (it’s not the camera that slows them down it’s the sign before you get to the intersection that says there is a camera there that slows them down) saves the life of one innocent child, I guess I’m okay with it.

    As to the assertion in the article that camera’s cause more crashes – I’d like to see that research. It’s hard to imagine that a camera that takes pictures of those who violate the law would cause accidents. That is a similar argument that A.B.A.T.E. has used regarding helmet use for motorcycles – that they cause spinal cord injury.

    The helmet laws are a very similar question. Many states have them, some have repealed them or modified them. I have ridden a motorcycle halfway across the United States without a helmet and enjoyed the experience, but the fact is that mandatory helmets decrease fatalities significantly and removing a mandatory portion increases it significantly (fatalities went up by 50% in PA and FL and 100% in LA). While there is an increase in the number of spinal cord injuries, the reason is that these paralyzed people that survived are the ones who would have died if they didn’t have a helmet on.

    The “biker” in me doesn’t like to ride with a helmet. The parent me wants to make sure I’m here for my kids so I do wear a helmet. The adult in me doesn’t want to pay the medical costs for that other biker who is riding without a helmet and without health insurance – I’ll bet (without evidence) that there is a high correlation between those who ride without helmets and those who don’t have health insurance.

    Does my reasoning sound logical? Nope, but it’s just how I feel – conflicted.

  • cynthiagrossman

    those cameras are definitely a money making scam.

    Cynthia G.