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Old 2009-04-26
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Exclamation Red Light Camera Companies Exploit Victims to Push Florida Law

Article: Red Light Camera Companies Exploit Victims to Push Florida Law

Melissa WandallCorporations that stand to gain millions if the Florida legislature legalizes red light cameras have created a network of victim advocacy groups to promote their cause. Central to this effort is Melissa Wandall, founder of the Stop Red Light Running Coalition of Florida. Wandall became involved in the issue after a tragic red light running accident took the life of her husband Mark in 2003. Wandall now uses her status as a victim to travel the state and to lobby the legislature on behalf of red light cameras. Sympathetic newspapers frequently run her opinion pieces on the eve of important committee votes.

Far from being a grassroots effort, however, Wandall's group is part of a slick marketing campaign funded in large measure by the traffic camera industry. Five of the top manufacturers of automated ticketing machines -- Affiliated Computer Services (ACS), CMA Consulting, Gatso, Lasercraft and Redflex -- hired a public relations firm to create the National Campaign to Stop Red Light Running. Using this group helps the camera corporations disguise the self-interested nature of their lobbying activity.

"Redflex is active in supporting legislation with the USA market to promote the benefits of photo enforcement to improve public safety through the National Campaign to Stop Red Light Running and lobby efforts in specific states," the Australian traffic camera company explained in a 2005 filing with the Australian Securities Exchange.

One of the National Campaign's early strategies was to solicit victims of tragic accidents that could be used as tools to advance their corporate legislative agenda. This plan sought to gather such victims into a "Survivor Advocate Network."

"[The lobbying firm] will work with these individuals to prepare, assist and even 'coach' them for advocacy involvement if desired," the National Campaign explained on its website. "Some of the activities in which survivor advocates can choose to participate are: writing letters to legislators; testifying before state legislative committees; speaking to news reporters on the phone; writing letters to the editors of local papers; serving as a spokesperson at media events; and working with other survivor advocates throughout the country."

Wandall was particularly good at all of these tasks. With the help of Neil Spirtas, she formed the Stop Red Light Running Coalition of Florida in March 2006. Spirtas, the coalition's vice president, is also vice president of the Manatee County Chamber of Commerce which receives funding from Peek Traffic Corporation.

"Peek Traffic, a manufacturer based out of Palmetto, develops innovative traffic control products," a Manatee Chamber blog update explained on March 8, 2006. "Starting in 2005, they assisted the Manatee Chamber and the county in running a red light camera pilot program. The program is used to document the number of individuals who ran red lights at the test intersection."

Wandall's connection to companies that profit from photo enforcement run deeper. Her husband worked for John Hancock Financial Services, the US division of the Canadian insurance giant Manulife. Among the company's assets are one million shares of ACS stock along with significant holdings of insurance firms such as Allstate. The Stop Red Light Running Coalition of Florida lists among its supporters a number of organizations that profit directly from red light cameras. These include, in addition to Manatee County, a number of municipalities and the Florida League of Cities. The automated ticketing industry shows up on the supporter list in the form of the National Campaign as well as Peek Traffic and Quixote Corporation. Even though the campaign is billed as a "life saving" effort, the abortion group Planned Parenthood is listed as a supporter of Wandall's traffic camera crusade.

It is no accident that insurance companies have also played a strong role in advocating red light camera legislation in Florida. State Representative Ron Reagan (R-Bradenton) named his red light camera legislation the "Mark Wandall Traffic Safety Act" to make it appear that it was introduced in response to the tragic 2003 accident of a constituent.

As we reported last year, Reagan graduated from the Insurance Campaign Institute, a "bootcamp" designed to teach industry employees how to become lawmakers to advance the industry's interests. Insurance companies stand to benefit directly from expanding the scope of automated enforcement because photo tickets carry points in several states, including California. Take Elk Grove as an example. Last year, a pair of red light cameras in the city dished out 9,364 tickets worth $426 split between the city, state and Redflex. Ninety-six percent of the violations, according to the Sacramento Bee, did not actually involve red light running, but rather turning right on red.

Nonetheless, each ticket recipient received a point on his license and three years of higher insurance payments. The extent of the premium increase varies by company and by driving record, but if a ticketed premium goes up an average of just $40 a year as a result of a ticket, insurance companies would make more than a million in net profit from Elk Grove's pair of cameras. Considering more than sixty cities across California have active camera programs, each with dozens of cameras, the small investment in promoting photo enforcement has already paid off in a big way.

A 350k PDF file at the source link below documents the Survivor Advocate Network and shows the financial backers of the national and Florida red light camera campaigns. Source
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