Florida communities seek auto insurance discounts for drivers in cities with red-light cameras
Leaders of two Florida communities want auto insurance companies in the Sunshine State to give the green light to discounts for motorists who live in places with red-light traffic cameras.
Some observers aren’t revved up about the idea, however. In fact, the American Insurance Association — a major lobbying organization for auto and home insurers — opposes the concept.
Delivering value for drivers
|Leaders of two Florida cities say their residents should benefit from red-light cameras in the form of auto insurance discounts.|
On July 27, 2011, the Town Council in Juno Beach — a Palm Beach County town with seven red-light cameras — unanimously passed a resolution urging auto insurance companies to reduce premiums for residents of Florida communities that have installed these cameras. The City Commission in Pembroke Pines, a Fort Lauderdale suburb, is considering a similar resolution. Pembroke Pines has 22 red-light cameras. These cameras snap photos of cars that run red lights; traffic tickets are sent to the violators by mail.
One insurer, Missouri-based American National Property and Casualty Co., already offers auto insurance discounts in some communities with red-light cameras, including St. Charles, Mo. A company representative couldn’t be reached for comment.
Juno Beach Mayor Mort Levine says he hopes to extend the red-light-discount initiative statewide and even nationwide. Aside from Pembroke Pines, officials in three other Florida communities — Orlando, Riviera Beach and Palm Springs — have expressed interest in the red-light discount, he says.
“The more municipalities that join with us, the more likely that the insurance industry will hear our voice,” Levine tells InsuranceQuotes.com. “Further, if the insurance industry responds favorably, it could encourage more communities to enhance their safety. Hopefully, as more and more drivers become aware that red-light violations are being enforced, there will come a time that we will have no violations.”
Angelo Castillo, a member of the Pembroke Pines City Commission, is spearheading his city’s push for the auto insurance discount. The average auto insurance premium in Pembroke Pines exceeds $2,900 a year — well above the national average.
“Cynics say it can’t be done. I don’t make a living being a cynic; I make a living delivering as much value as I can to residents,” Castillo tells InsuranceQuotes.com. “So I’m going to work the heck out of this issue and see if we can get it done. … All we have to do is convince one insurance company to offer the discount. All the rest will follow.”
Castillo thinks auto insurance companies should “get ahead of the curve” by offering rate reductions for motorists in cities with red-light cameras.
“It’s ultimately in their best business interest to do so, and good for driver safety,” Castillo says. “Not to mention the impact it has on reducing speeding and making drivers more careful all around.”
Insurance group: Red-light discounts unwarranted
Not everyone shares Levine’s and Castillo’s enthusiasm. While saying that red-light cameras are a “proven safety device,” the American Insurance Association balks at the notion of awarding discounts to drivers in red-light-camera communities. David Snyder, the association’s vice president and assistant general counsel, characterizes the proposed discount as unnecessary and inappropriate.
Snyder explains that auto insurance rates are based, in part, by claims filed by drivers in a given geographic area. If red-light cameras contribute to fewer claims, that eventually will be reflected in overall lower rates for drivers in that area. Therefore, red-light-camera discounts wouldn’t be needed, he says. Furthermore, Snyder says, the discounts are inappropriate because increases in speeding-related crashes or drunken driving crashes could offset any rate gains from red-light cameras.
No link between red-light cameras, insurance claims
While not weighing in either way on the discount debate, Lynne McChristian, the Florida representative for the industry-backed Insurance Information Institute, says communities typically don’t install red-light cameras with a reduction in auto insurance rates as their primary motivation.
“They want to save lives, supplement law enforcement when they are unable to police every problematic intersection in person, and — as critics of the cameras say — use the ticket revenue,” McChristian says.
McChristian emphasizes that auto insurance rates reflect a company’s history with claims. But she says there’s no data regarding how red-light cameras affect auto insurance claims.
“Each insurance company establishes rates by analyzing its own claims costs, and if claims costs go down, so do rates,” McChristian says. “But there is more affecting auto insurance rates in Florida than what can be controlled by red-light cameras — specifically a no-fault auto insurance system that has been subjected to fraud and abuse. The most important thing about red-light cameras is that they save lives and prevent fatal crashes.”
Supporters: Red-light cameras save lives
Indeed, the Juno Beach resolution makes that point. The resolution cites statistics from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety indicating that red-light cameras saved the lives of 159 motorists from 2004 to 2008 in more than a dozen of the country’s largest metropolitan areas.
|Gary Biller, executive director of the National Motorists Association, questions the notion of tying red-light cameras to auto insurance discounts.|
Red-light cameras, the resolution says, are “an effective tool for creating safer roads and reducing the number of vehicular collisions, fatalities and injuries, thereby lowering the number of insurance claims.”
The Juno Beach resolution has been sent to the Florida governor’s office, the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation and auto insurers doing business in Florida, among others.
On Aug. 17, 2011, a judge in Broward County, Fla., ruled that red-light cameras are constitutional; the ruling came the same day that the Town Council in Davie, a Fort Lauderdale suburb, voted 3-2 to keep the community’s red-light cameras. Some Florida lawmakers have called for a statewide ban on these cameras.
Critics: Red-light cameras are flawed
Gary Biller, executive director of the nonprofit National Motorists Association, a drivers’ rights group, is one of the country’s most vocal critics of red-light cameras. Biller and fellow doubters insist red-light cameras are faulty and intrusive and fail to improve traffic safety. The Florida Civil Rights Association points to studies conducted in Florida, North Carolina, Virginia and other places that show red-light cameras actually cause more auto accidents, injuries and deaths. Red-light-camera supporters dismiss these studies.
Biller doubts the validity of tying auto insurance rates to red-light cameras. He points to a tally by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a big backer of red-light cameras, of states that support the cameras and states that prohibit them. In the 14 states that permit the cameras and the 23 states that ban them, the National Motorists Association found that the average auto insurance rates are “virtually identical,” Biller says.
“This would seem to indicate that paying the price for having photo enforcement — through the cost of operating the cameras and the penalty to motorists in the form of more tickets — does nothing to lower auto insurance premiums,” Biller says.
Henry Stowe, transportation chairman for the Florida Civil Rights Association, says red-light-camera discounts are merely part of a campaign to curb opposition to the cameras. The association rigorously opposes red-light technology. Stowe adds that it would be “ludicrous” to offer a red-light discount larger than 1 percent anyway, as auto accidents involving motorists who run red lights make up less than 2.5 percent of all accidents in Florida.
Despite such skepticism, Castillo, the Pembroke Pines commissioner, is undaunted in his quest to gain auto insurance discounts for motorists in his city and the nearly 80 other Florida communities with red-light cameras.
“I think insurance companies should be excited about this. It’s a game changer,” Castillo says.