I think you would have to say the cameras are a little of both. I don’t think anyone has been able to satisfactorily respond to the Fourth Amendment question of receiving tickets that are generated by a computer. And while it’s true that these drivers are technically on a public right of way and, so, would have no presumption of privacy, there is a valid question about innocence and guilt when you can’t say for sure who was driving the car.
That means you can be convicted of a traffic citation without any proof that you were the one driving. Just because it was your car doesn’t mean it was you who ran the red light.
As for the question of public safety that supporters often bring up, I would refer to the old Mark Twain quote: "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics." Personally, I think the claim that red-light cameras improve safety is suspect. Any evidence is not clear. And of course some analyses say the presence of the cameras can actually cause more rear-end accidents. Those would be low-speed collisions, so they probably wouldn’t be as bad as the T-bone collision that could happen in an intersection.
Basically, though, what’s clear is that the evidence isn’t clear. And if you can’t prove convincingly that the cameras make roads safer, what really is the point of this program?
I don’t think there’s any question about that. Ninety percent of the municipalities that have installed red-light cameras have done so to increase revenue. It’s just like how lots of small towns have always set up speed traps. This law has allowed them to do that. When the bill was in discussion, there was an effort to use the revenue from camera-generated tickets to educate drivers about auto safety. But there was strong push-back, and it ended up that the revenue goes into general operating funds.
I’d say it's correct to point out that I’m not a fan. I’m suspicious of the cameras’ value in public safety. When there was a floor vote last year, I voted to discontinue them. I think the red-light cameras are questionable as a constitutional matter and questionable as a public-safety matter. You put those two together, and I think it’s an ill-advised program in Florida.