A filmed traffic death is still a traffic death

With all due respect to Melissa Wandall, her pleas for cameras at traffic lights are misguided.A driver with a history of traffic violations killed Wandall’s husband in 2004 at an intersection in Bradenton. Tragically, she was pregnant at the time, and her husband’s death occurred two weeks before she gave birth to the child.

But what was merely an unfortunate accident has become “a statewide crusade,” according to an article in the St. Petersburg Times, “for a law allowing cities and counties to install cameras at traffic lights to catch red-light runners.”

The bill seems reasonable enough. Cameras are already allowed on county and city roads. According to the Times, more than 100 cities and counties in the United States use cameras to catch people who run red lights. Various organizations from city governments to insurance company-backed safety organizations endorse the cameras as life saving. Furthermore, it’s very difficult to argue that people have much of an expectation of privacy when it comes to public roads: Safety tends to take precedence over privacy when dealing with a public resource.

Therefore, it was puzzling when the Florida Senate decided it had no plans to discuss the bill, despite the fact that the House Economic Expansion and Infrastructure Council unanimously approved it. Cary Baker, R-Eustis, who heads the Senate Transportation Committee, told the Times he “wasn’t comfortable enough with the issue to proceed forward.” Senate Majority Leader Daniel Webster, R-Winter Garden, was uncomfortable because he saw the issue as “vendor driven,” or predominantly brought to the government’s attention by those who wish to sell the cameras.

That isn’t the only reason to feel a little hesitant about cameras at traffic intersections, though. Backers of the bill who have ties to insurance companies, for instance, are of questionable veracity. Of course insurance companies are going to support a system that claims to reduce accidents – regardless of whether the system saves lives, fewer accidents mean fewer payouts to policyholders.

But the real point of contention is how far society is willing to go to prevent accidents. Accidents are, quite frankly, unavoidable. As long as there is traffic, there will be traffic deaths. This editorial board feels great sympathy for Wandall, but it hopes she realizes the threat of a $125 civil penalty due to a traffic camera won’t stop traffic deaths – and likely would not have prevented the death of her husband.