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Red Light Cameras: Show Me The Money

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On: Wed, Oct 21, 2009 at 3:16PM | By: Clay Ritchings

Red Light Cameras: Show Me The Money

I have not put much thought into the whole “red light camera” topic until my town decided to place these autonomous ticket printing machines up in strategic places that will Make Money. Make no mistake about it that when a town decides to use an independent company that has incentives to write tickets without the discretion of a police officer at the scene to take in the whole situation and use his judgment, they are in it to make money. I must say that in no way do I advocate reckless driving or breaking the laws, but If Big Brother is going to start writing tickets from an armchair in Arizona for your front tires being over the white line then I must protect myself.

Whenever I have been pulled over and given a warning, I have always been very appreciative and whatever I did wrong was etched into my brain for a long time and I made an effort not to do that again, making me a better driver. These cameras do not make better drivers — they cause accidents. Studies have shown for many years that red light cameras (RLCs) are a detriment to motorist safety, and the National Motorists Association (NMA) has published five independent studies that demonstrate the failure of red light cameras as a safety measure. If it’s not about the money, then prove it.

The panicked reaction that some drivers have to the sight of a speed camera may, in fact, be a significant cause of accidents. The group CameraFraud.com recently released an Arizona Department of Public Safety (ADPS) accident report that describes a July 25 incident in which a gray Chevy Camaro collided with a red 1994 Toyota 4Runner SUV on Interstate 17 in Yavapai County, sending two people to the hospital. Although ADPS maintains that it hired an Australian company, Redflex Traffic Systems, to operate speed cameras to improve safety, the department's own report tells a far different story.

"All the witnesses reported seeing the gray passenger car lose control of the vehicle as it passed the photo radar van, and was apparently trying to slow down for the photo radar van," the police report explained.

Scottsdale resident Tracy O. was about 500 feet from the accident. She told the police that, "The Camaro was trying to slow down because of speed camera."

Scottsdale resident Helene S. told police that, "I saw the Camaro swerve out of control and hit into the red SUV. It happened after the Camaro passed a speed camera."

Sedona resident Allison S. was about 150 feet away. "While driving northbound in rain right near a photo radar enforcement vehicle, we saw the car fishtail ahead of us, spin, and hit red SUV which then also spun off the road."

Although no video of the Arizona incident has been released, police in Norfolk, England captured the same panic-braking reaction on tape. The government-owned BBC news service inadvertently aired the video clips from two such incidents last year (see below). Shortly after the news program aired, the BBC removed all copies of the footage from its website. The Norfolk Speed Camera Partnership and the UK Information Commissioner cited "technical difficulties" in refusing to release the full videos of each crash. If it’s not about the money, then prove it.

How many times have you made a legal right on red turn? A single red light camera in Riverside, California issued $1 million worth of right-hand turn-on-red tickets in just one month. The automated ticketing machine, installed in March, at Tyler Street at the entrance to the 91 Freeway has become the most productive of the city's cameras and now accounts for half of the citations issued by Riverside's vendor, Redflex Traffic Systems of Australia. The camera helped boost the grand total of citations mailed since January 2007 to 82,448 tickets worth $32,532,203.

Despite the significant revenue figures, Riverside Police insist that the cameras have one purpose: to reduce traffic fatalities.

"The red signal is red for a reason. Like the 'Wrong Way' and 'Stop' signs, the lights' red color is intended to be a strong warning to motorists of the deadly hazard in disobeying these signs," Riverside Police Traffic Bureau Lieutenant Ken Carpenter said in a statement.

According to a 2001 review of 2001 National Highway Transportation Safety Administration report, however, a mere 0.038 percent of all crashes involved a motorist who made a right-hand turn at an intersection. By the odds, such accidents are so rare that an individual could drive a billion miles before being involved in a collision that resulted from a motorist making a rolling stop on a right-hand turn. Studies in California also show that 96% of the infractions caught by the cameras are not for running red lights, but for turning on right-on-red lights

A collection of red light camera studies over the last decade shows red light cameras have serious side-effects.

  • A 2008 University of South Florida report found:
    "Comprehensive studies conclude cameras actually increase crashes and injuries, providing a safety argument not to install them.... public policy should avoid conflicts of interest that enhance revenues for government and private interests at the risk of public safety."
    PDF VersionFull copy, 80k pdf

  • A 2007 Virginia Department of Transportation study found:
    "The cameras were associated with an increase in total crashes... The aggregate EB results suggested that this increase was 29%... The cameras were associated with an increase in the frequency of injury crashes... The aggregate EB results suggested an 18% increase, although the point estimates for individual jurisdictions were substantially higher (59%, 79%, or 89% increases) or lower (6% increase or a 5% decrease)."
    PDF VersionFull copy, 1mb pdf

  • A 2006 Winnipeg, Canada city audit found:
    "The graph shows an increase of 58% in the number of traffic collisions from 2003 to 2004.... Contrary to long-term expectations, the chart shows an increase in claims at each level of damage with the largest percentage increase appearing at the highest dollar value."
    Read a summary
    PDF VersionFull copy, 541k pdf

  • A 2005 Virginia DOT study found:
    "The cameras are correlated with an increase in total crashes of 8% to 17%."
    PDF VersionFull copy, 1.7mb pdf

  • In 2005, The Washington Post found:
    "The analysis shows that the number of crashes at locations with cameras more than doubled, from 365 collisions in 1998 to 755 last year. Injury and fatal crashes climbed 81 percent, from 144 such wrecks to 262. Broadside crashes, also known as right-angle or T-bone collisions, rose 30 percent, from 81 to 106 during that time frame."
    Full article on the Post website

  • A 2004 North Carolina A&T University study found:
    "Our findings are more pessimistic, finding no change in angle accidents and large increases in rear-end crashes and many other types of crashes relative to other intersections."
    PDF VersionFull copy, 1.7mb pdf

  • A 2003 Ontario Ministry of Transportation study found:
    "Compared to the average number of reported collisions occurring in the before period, the average yearly number of reported collisions increased 15.1 per cent in the after period."
    PDF VersionFull copy, 1.5mb pdf

  • A 1995 Australian Road Research Board study found:
    "The results of this study suggest that the installation of the RLC at these sites did not provide any reduction in accidents, rather there has been increases in rear end and adjacent approaches accidents on a before and after basis and also by comparison with the changes in accidents at intersection signals."
    Read a summary
    PDF VersionFull copy, 2.4mb pdf

  • A 1995 Monash University (Australia) study found:
    "a simple correlation analysis was undertaken for red light running data in the current study and revealed no significant relationship between the frequency of crashes at RLC and non-RLC sites and differences in red light running behaviour."
    Read a summary

I wish that the municipalities would do some research before installing these RLCs and
empower some fat-ass robo cop sitting behind a desk to write tickets. Research not just the economics but look at the overall impact. The studies have proven that they do not make anyone safer, but quite the opposite.

In my next blog entry on this topic I will look at some of the devices that have come out to combat these RLCs and maybe some ideas on how they can make the signals safer without implementing autonomous devices that are far from perfect.

Safe Driving…

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gator done | 3:07PM (Thu, Nov 5, 2009)

Florida statute 322.0261 requires drivers to attend a department approved driver improvement school if they are convicted of Running a stop sign or a red light.

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