NMA Email Newsletter: Issue #83

Follow The Money

Why a majority of motorists don’t get more riled up about the massive amount of red-light ticket camera fines being levied across the country is hard to fathom. A reporter asked the other day for our best estimate of the annual revenue created by these silent — actually deaf, dumb and mute — sentinels located at intersections in over 400 communities. After pointing out high profile programs at several major cities such as Chicago, Washington D.C. and Los Angeles and commenting on the dozens of smaller programs that rake in startling amounts of cash, we stopped counting well into the hundreds of millions of dollars of ticket camera penalties being assessed — per year.

When that much money is involved, you know that people with a variety of agendas are scurrying to find ways to spend it, touting programs that often bear no relationship to making our roads safer.

League City, Texas has netted a little over $400,000 so far this year from their red-light camera program. The city does restrict use of the funds to safety-related projects, although not just for improving traffic conditions and hence, driver safety. To their credit, the City Council of League City is looking at funding a crash-avoidance driving course to focus on reducing the number of teen accidents. They are also considering the installation of more LED stops signs and message boards to better alert motorists of roadway conditions. But League City officials are also giving serious thought to building a portable surveillance tower, one that can be equipped with either live officers or cameras for remote monitoring. The thought is that the tower can be positioned near troublesome street corners, parks, or pretty much anywhere that the police would want a panoramic view of what city residents are up to.

Lakeland, Florida is more blatant about its general use of red-light camera ticket revenue. Authorities there aren’t restricted to spending motorist penalties on safety programs. Lakeland city commissioners recently voted unanimously to spend $500,000 in red-light camera fines over the next five years to improve tourism.

That presents an interesting irony, one that the commissioners doubtless don’t see. The more the city fines its drivers, the more money they get to tout Lakeland as a wonderful place to visit. The half a million dollars would be used to help fund a Frank Lloyd Wright Tourist and Education Center at Florida Southern College, with the goal of attracting 100,000 visitors to Lakeland annually. It is unlikely that the motorists who involuntarily end up providing some of the financing of the venture will be among future happy tourists.

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