Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The truth about red-light cameras

So, according to today's Houston Chronicle, it appears that the introduction of red-light cameras in Houston has NOT reduced the number of accidents.  Despite a city-financed study showing the number of accidents at monitored intersections doubled in the first year after installation, Mayor Bill White (who has yet to meet a revenue-raising measure he didn't like) insists that the figures would have been worse but for the cameras.

The number of rear-end collisions increased from 55 to 90, the number of side collisions increased from 220 to 427 and the number of sideswipe collisions increased from 72 to 167 at the monitored intersections.  A Washington Post study showed that the number of accidents at monitored intersections in Washington, D.C., between 1999-2005, increased at a higher rate than at non-monitored intersections.

Apologists for the cameras claim that the increased number of accidents at those intersections are not due to the cameras but, instead, to the increased number of accidents in the city despite information from the Houston Police Department that the number of accidents in the city has decreased every year since 2004.

This latest data makes a very strong case for the camera opponents' assertion that the purpose of the cameras is increasing city revenues, not safety.  Since September 2006, more than 387,000 citations have been issued and the city has raked in over $20 million.

Supporters love the cameras because the $75 civil citations sent by mail to the registered owner of the car are virtually impossible to fight, as the burden has been shifted from the state to the citizen to prove he or she didn't run the light.  At unmonitored intersections, running a traffic light is a Class C misdemeanor meaning the burden is on the prosecution to prove the citizen ran the light.


Anonymous said...

If I understand it correctly, this is one of the many reasons red-light cameras were finally removed from Fresno, California. I think other California cities have also learned that installing red-light cameras has a negative impact.

Part of the reason also had something to do with the company that managed the system altering the way the lights worked to try to increase revenues.

At the time they were discussing removing the lights from Fresno, I recall reading that studies had shown that one way to reduce red-light runners is to lengthen the time the amber (yellow) light is on.

Personally, I've never doubted that much of what the city does regarding laws, filing fees, fines, etc., is aimed at revenue generation. If they cared about SAFETY they would (among other things) require people to know how to drive before giving out licenses.... ;)

Mark Bennett said...

They could have controlled for an overall increase in accidents. I'd bet that, in the first draft, they did.

Paul B. Kennedy said...

I'll be interested to see that first draft -- should they ever produce it to Randall and Paul.