Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Accident rates decrease after red light cameras taken down

You'd never know it if you relied on the Houston Chronicle's website, but splashed on the front page of yesterday's paper was an article announcing that the removal of red light cameras has resulted in fewer traffic accidents at the 50 intersections where the cameras were mounted.

According to data released by HPD, the number of traffic accidents at those intersections has declined by 16% in the five months since voters rejected the cameras. The data compared the number of accidents in the five months prior to the removal of the cameras (June 15-Nov. 14, 2010) and the number of accidents between November 15, 2010 and April 16, 2011.

According to the Chronicle:
The drop in accidents surprised Houston police administrators who say a possible explanation is the unusually dry weather during recent months has made driving conditions safer. They also wonder if years of electronic monitoring have made Houstonians better, if not more cautious, drivers.
Maybe it never occurred to the police that accidents increased at the intersections due to the number of motorists slamming on their brakes as they approached yellow lights.
Assistant Chief Brian Lumpkin said he had assumed accidents at those intersections were increasing since HPD is still receiving raw data from the camera vendor indicating motorists were running lights with much greater frequency at many intersections. The HPD records show accidents decreased at 32 intersections, increased at 21 and stayed the same at 17.
Well, Mr. Lumpkin, the conclusion is quite obvious -- place officers near those intersections and stop motorists who run red lights. We all know the most popular pastime in Houston is seeing how many cars can get through an intersection when the light's yellow. We all know the number one rule of driving in Houston is you don't take off at the intersection when the light turns green - you wait for that one last car to go through the red light.

The other thing that Mr. Lumpkin's analysis doesn't take into account is the number of red light camera tickets that officers rejected upon review before issuing the civil citations. Estimates are that HPD monitors rejected almost 40% of the proposed violations.
On Nov. 14 soon after a referendum to shut down the system passed, the city stopped issuing violations but was ordered by the courts to keep the cameras and road sensors up. HPD took an immediate $10 million hit from the department's anticipated share of ticket revenue for the remainder of this fiscal year, as the city ended a lucrative system that issued nearly 800,000 tickets and collected almost $44 million in fines since going online in September 2006.
The red light camera scam was never about increasing safety on Houston's streets. It was always about increasing revenues without having to pay for officers to patrol the intersections. The latest data is pretty damning proof that the original premise behind the cameras was faulty.

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