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Sunday, Mar 29, 2015

Driver's advocacy group weighs in on red-light cameras


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BROOKSVILLE - Even though it could be months before Hernando County voters weigh in on red-light cameras via a planned referendum, a national drivers advocacy group is weighing in on the debate.

In a letter dated July 4, James C. Walker, an active member with the National Motorists Association and executive director of the National Motorists Association Foundation, called the county's planned vote "excellent."

The idea of a November red-light referendum was introduced by Hernando County Commission Chair Dave Russell during a June 25 meeting. Russell, who has said in the past that he's been rear-ended at a red-light camera intersection, gained support from his fellow commissioners during the meeting.

In his letter to the county, Walker, of Ann Arbor, Mich., said that "cameras lost about 90 percent of the time when citizens are allowed to cast real ballots" and that Florida residents are starting to realize cameras are more about profit than safety and are increasingly becoming resentful.

Reached by phone on Saturday, Walker elaborated on a statement made in the letter to the county, that Brooksville's 5-mph right-on-red rule is the "most predatory rule for 'prudent' right on red turns in the state, defining prudent as 5 mph or lower."

"This parameter should be 15 to 19 mph based on the intersection geometry, if safety is the real issue," Walker wrote.

Walker said Brooksville's 5-mph right-on-red is the "lowest" speed he's heard of in the country.

"Some Florida cities are about 10 (mph)," Walker said. "That's too low, it really needs to be close to 20 mph."

Walker said drivers, as a general rule, don't make a right turn traveling 20 mph but slow down.

When asked about the 5-mph right-on-red rule, Brooksville Police Chief George Turner said "that was just a number City Council came up with back when the Mark Wandall Traffic Safety Act went into effect.

"City Council thought that was a good number, and it's in our ordinance," Turner said, adding his officers tend to err on the side of leniency for right-on-red tickets.

"Every violation is looked at by multiple people, and if they don't feel it is safe and prudent, a ticket is issued," Turner said.

Russell previously told Hernando Today that the referendum would not affect the City of Brooksville, which operates 16 red-light cameras at eight intersections, but that voter support against the cameras would send a message to legislators.

But according to Turner and city council, the cameras are reducing accidents. Turner has said in the past that during the first year of the red-light cameras, 2009 to 2010, accidents dropped by 35 percent.

From May to December 2012, more than $1.1 million was collected by Brooksville's red-light cameras. With about $590,000 going to the state, and $283,000 paid to the camera vendor, Sensys America, Brooksville received about $267,000.

During a February 2013 meeting to discuss camera revenue, council members Joe Bernardini and Vice Mayor Kevin Hohn said they'd like the revenue spent on safety education, while Mayor Lara Bradburn said she'd prefer the funds be spent on rejuvenating transportation.

During a July 1 meeting, city council members discussed the county jumping in on red-light camera discussions after the fact.

"They say they're going to put it on the ballot," Bradburn said. "They say a lot of things."

Bernardini noted that the city has yet to receive a "formal request" to remove two red-light cameras that were discovered on county roads earlier in the year.

"It's kind of like they're the bad guys, but they haven't even asked us," Bernardini said.

"I'm not a red-light camera guy, personally, but I don't like the fact they haven't even asked us," Bernardini added.

In June, Assistant County Administrator Brian Malmberg said red- and yellow-light clearance times were adjusted per new Florida Department of Transportation standards. Brooksville cannot adjust the traffic lights themselves, and contract out the work to the county. Though a letter was written by Turner to the FDOT on behalf of the city asking clearance times be set as long as possible, most clearance times were slightly shortened.

Michael Bates contributed to this report.

wbiddlecombe@hernandotoday .com

(352) 544-5283

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