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Old 03-20-08, 06:54 PM   #1
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Do red light cameras work too well?

Do red light cameras work too well?

Some cities rethink devices as drivers pay heed, reducing fine revenue
By Alex Johnson
Reporter
updated 4:59 p.m. PT, Thurs., March. 20, 2008

Last week, Dallas officials reviewed the numbers and decided that a quarter of the cameras they had installed to catch motorists running red lights were too effective. So they shut them down.

They are not alone. Faced with data showing that drivers pay attention to cameras at intersections — resulting in fewer ticketable violations and ever-shrinking revenue from fines — municipalities across the country are reconsidering red light cameras, which often work too well.

At the heart of the discussions taking place in city councils and county commissions is tension between the twin benefits that were touted when local governments began installing cameras about a decade and a half ago. Officials were promised that the cameras — which generally speaking take snapshots of busy intersections at the instant the light turns red, capturing the license plates of any cars that are still in the intersection — would simultaneously save lives and generate millions of dollars in extra fines.

The first half of that equation is arguably true: A federal study found a small but measurable reduction in injuries nationwide in accidents at intersections monitored by cameras, though there was an increase in some kinds of collisions.

It is the second half of the equation that may be beginning to collapse. As drivers learn where the cameras are, they are more careful. Fewer of them run red lights. Local governments collect fewer fines.

Fewer violations = less revenue
Sometimes, as in Dallas, cameras generate so little revenue that they can’t even pay for themselves.

Citywide statistics obtained by NBC affiliate KXAS-TV found that red light cameras do reduce accidents. That is a good thing.

But they do it by reducing red light violations, by as much as 29 percent from month to month at particularly busy Dallas intersections. On the face of it, that, too, is a good thing — but not, necessarily, if you rely on traffic fines to make up a healthy chunk of your budget.

Dallas lawmakers originally estimated gross revenue of $15 million from their 62 cameras this fiscal year, which ends June 30. But City Manager Mary Suhm estimated last week that the city would fall short by more than $4 million.

So Friday, the city turned off about a quarter of the least profitable cameras, saying it couldn’t justify the cost of running them.


Safety benefits questioned
Dallas was just following the lead of several other cities that have shut down red light cameras in recent months:

City officials in Charlotte and Fayetteville, N.C., recently turned off all of their red light cameras, concluding that a state law diverting much of the revenue they generate in fines to schools meant their general funds were actually losing money, NBC affiliate WNCN of Raleigh reported.
San Diego temporarily shut down all of its red light cameras late last year pending a lawsuit that sought $27 million in damages, alleging that the city’s system was unconstitutional because it was run by a private company. The city’s system faces a separate class-action suit targeting evidence gathered by cameras as illegal.
Officials in Bolingbrook, Ill., ended their red light camera program after statistics showed a 40 percent drop in ticketable offenses.
It’s not always lower revenue that leads municipalities to question whether red light cameras are worth it.

In Lubbock, Texas, for example, the City Council shut down all cameras last month, citing a report that showed statistically significant increases in rear-end collisions at intersections, including those with cameras.

Rear-end collisions, in fact, have been cited in numerous reports and lawsuits questioning the benefits of red light cameras. Opponents claim that the cameras actually create more hazardous conditions.

“When people know there’s a red light camera, they change their driving behavior, and they slam on their brakes trying to avoid a ticket,” said Tom McCarey, an activist for the National Motorists Association. The association, which is based in Waunakee, Wis., calls itself a 6,000-member group “dedicated to representing and protecting the rights and interests of North American motorists.”


Federal study largely inconclusive
Research by the Federal Highway Administration bears out McCarey’s argument — at least, as far as it goes.

In 2005, the agency released the first systematic national study of accident rates at intersections where cameras monitor red lights, compiling projections and hard data from seven cities from Maryland to California. The report tabulated 14.9 percent more rear-end crashes than would have been expected if the intersections had no cameras, resulting in 24 percent more injuries.

“Red light cameras don’t make intersections safer. They make them more dangerous,” McCarey said. Which is true — if all you’re worried about is rear-end crashes.

But the FHA study compiled numbers on all accidents at the relevant intersections, and it found that right-angle collisions — also known as “T-bone crashes,” when a car comes across the intersection and whacks you from the side — came in 24.6 percent below projections, with 15.7 percent fewer injuries.

This is where both sides acknowledge that you can make statistics say anything you want.

Opponents of cameras highlight rear-end crashes, noting that they make up more than 71 percent of accidents at intersections. Removing the cameras would lessen the most common kind of accidents.

But advocates point out that right-angle crashes are far more dangerous, causing 64 percent of the injuries at those intersections.

“We would prefer to have minor rear-end collisions, rather than broadside collisions, which lead to serious and fatal injuries,” said Art Acevedo, chief of the Austin, Texas, police.

Small reduction in injuries cited
What is clear in the study, when it is taken overall, is that red light cameras led to no real change in the number of accidents (4,059 with versus 4,063 without). But they did reduce the number of people hurt in those accidents, by just less than 5 percent (459 versus 482).

The FHA concluded that cameras provide, at best, a “modest aggregate crash-cost benefit.”

That benefit is so modest that the National Motorists Association has a standing offer of $10,000 to any community that can empirically prove that red light cameras can prevent violations and accidents better than a schedule of traffic engineering steps it recommends, which include proper signal timing, better signal design and improved intersection design.

Other opponents say that even if the cameras made driving far safer, that still doesn't justify what they call the systematic violation of drivers’ constitutional rights.

The American Civil Liberties Union joined a lawsuit brought by an Iowa man who received a $125 ticket in the mail after his vehicle was photographed doing 49 mph in a 35-mph zone in Davenport in March 2006.

The man, Thomas Seymour, argued that he was denied due process because he couldn’t confront his accuser — an inanimate camera. The Iowa Supreme Court agreed to hear the case last week.

Earlier this month, a California Superior Court judge dismissed 250 tickets issued under San Diego’s camera program, which is administered by Lockheed Martin Corp. under a private contract. Because the evidence is not gathered by an official police agency, it is “unreliable” and “untrustworthy” and therefore inadmissible in court, the judge ruled.


In a separate class-action lawsuit, four groups of plaintiffs argue that Lockheed Martin had an illegal incentive to design a system that would catch as many drivers as possible, because it collected $70 from each $271 ticket.

Opponents contend that that is what is really at the heart of debates over red light cameras — profits. Some government officials, like those in Dallas, don’t dispute that.

In Springfield, Mo., officials wanted to begin ticketing motorists caught on red light cameras last June 1. But the state Legislature was considering a law that would have diverted some of the revenue to state programs.

So Springfield officials postponed issuing the tickets. Only after it became clear a few weeks later that the Legislature would not act on the bill did Springfield start sending out tickets, NBC affiliate KYTV reported. The cameras began breaking even in January.

“It’s all about the money, and it’s not just about the $100 fine,” said McCarey of the National Motorists Association. “It’s millions for the city and billions for insurers.”

NBC affiliates KRIS of Corpus Christi, Texas; KPRC of Houston; KSHB of Kansas City; KSDK of St. Louis; KSND of San Diego; KYTV of Springfield, Mo.; KXAN of Austin, Texas; KXAS of Dallas; WCAU of Philadelphia; WHO of Iowa City; WMAQ of Chicago; and WNCN of Raleigh, N.C., contributed to this report.
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Old 03-20-08, 09:29 PM   #2
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$180000 a year average for each camera seems a pretty good return to me. I think the criteria for deciding where to install should be based on the amount of collisions of injuries rather than the revenue earned. I believe that cameras that catch people going through red lights should be combined with speed measurement - people who speed up to get through are the ones I worry about the most.
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Old 03-20-08, 10:06 PM   #3
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Me: Your honer, I now call to the stands the officer that signed my citation.....

Me: Sir did you witness me go threw the red light?

Officer: No, I looked at a picture that was presented to me.

Me: Your honer I am accused of a misdemeanor traffic offense not committed in the presence on an officer, under federal law I move that this case be closed as there is no one in the court to testify as a first hand witness to the crime I'm accused of.

Judge: I have no choice but to drop the charges; Mr. JDub, you are free to go.

Why is any one paying these things? The cameras are required to be tested and calibrated daily and I promise you there isn't a single one in the states that is.
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Old 03-20-08, 11:25 PM   #4
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As a cyclist, pedestrian, and occaisional driver, I'm quite tired of having to compensate for the fact that drivers running red lights has become routine.

Bring on the cameras, bring on the emphasis patrols, start yanking licenses, do something....
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Old 03-20-08, 11:31 PM   #5
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the cameras work great. the complaint that revenues have gone down is just whining
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Old 03-21-08, 01:13 AM   #6
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Here in the most insane state in the union they say a study has shown redlite cameras
to add to rearend collisions in the areas they have been placed. The alternative proposal
is to leave the yellow lite on for a second more
I get it......now 10-15 more cars per signal will speed up dangerously fast before the
5 that has become the new legal standard for running the red shortly thereafter.
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Old 03-21-08, 01:45 AM   #7
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Here in the most insane state in the union they say a study has shown redlite cameras
to add to rearend collisions in the areas they have been placed. The alternative proposal
is to leave the yellow lite on for a second more
I get it......now 10-15 more cars per signal will speed up dangerously fast before the
5 that has become the new legal standard for running the red shortly thereafter.
I think they just need to add a countdown on the yellow stage. I know the feeling being as I know where all the red light cameras are, and I'm much more cautious of going through a yellow just because I have no clue how long it really is.

Though I love the lights, too many people run red lights, but then again people can keep track of which ones have cameras so they just run other intersections more instead =\

I smile every time the camera goes off.
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Old 03-21-08, 07:49 AM   #8
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I think it's a pretty dangerous state of affairs when the financial viability of the police relies on people breaking the law.
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Old 03-21-08, 07:54 AM   #9
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I think they just need to add a countdown on the yellow stage. I know the feeling being as I know where all the red light cameras are, and I'm much more cautious of going through a yellow just because I have no clue how long it really is.
I like this idea. I think I was in San Diego (maybe La Jolla?) or Los Angeles where I saw that they had something like this on their traffic lights. It was oddly soothing to me, knowing roughly how long the light was going to last. I really hate the feeling when I'm driving and a light up ahead turns yellow and I have to make that split second decision between a panic stop and the risk that it will turn red before I make it through the intersection.

On the other hand, i could see timers leading to some people trying to race the timer and leading to a safety problem, but I didn't actually witness that in California.
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Old 03-21-08, 08:08 AM   #10
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How about a compromise (yes I know in modern America the idea of a compromise is anathema, but still I hope)? If operating the cameras is so expensive that they're not paying for themselves, turn them off. Just don't tell the drivers!!! If the drivers don't know which ones are being monitored and which ones aren't, maybe they'll obey them all?
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Old 03-21-08, 08:45 AM   #11
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Here in the most insane state in the union they say a study has shown redlite cameras
to add to rearend collisions in the areas they have been placed. The alternative proposal
is to leave the yellow lite on for a second more
I get it......now 10-15 more cars per signal will speed up dangerously fast before the
5 that has become the new legal standard for running the red shortly thereafter.
I heard this on our local NPR station this morning. The same report also showed that the red light cameras reduce the frequency of right angle collisions. I'm not sure which is more serious, but T-boned sounds much worse than rear-ended (which sounds dirty to this immature biker). Of course the news headline was "red light cameras don't work" or something, and they only interviewed people who had been caught by the cameras for the report. Let's ask my cousin whose son was killed when his car was T-boned in an intersection by a red light runner what she thinks of the cameras...

Either way I've always felt that in a rear end collision the driver in second deserves all of the blame unless the extenuating circumstances were something on the order of a meteorite striking the lead car. Basically if you are driving so close to the car in front of you and at such speed that you can't stop in time when they do (for whatever reason they happen to be stopping) then you are either going to fast, following to close, or not paying enough attention; in any case you should pay an excessive fine and have your car crushed into a cube.
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Old 03-21-08, 08:57 AM   #12
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Since when is safety measured by revenue?
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Old 03-21-08, 09:23 AM   #13
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How about a compromise (yes I know in modern America the idea of a compromise is anathema, but still I hope)? If operating the cameras is so expensive that they're not paying for themselves, turn them off. Just don't tell the drivers!!! If the drivers don't know which ones are being monitored and which ones aren't, maybe they'll obey them all?
Actually, that would be effective.

I know that they have "speeding trap" cameras that are mobile -- mounted in a car or a van. Assuming that it is feasible, it would make sense to have mobile red light cameras distributed in a municipality in response to where people are breaking the law most.
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Old 03-21-08, 09:25 AM   #14
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Since when is safety measured by revenue?
Well ... just about everything -- including a human life -- can be measured by a reasonable metric like dollars. Consider what decision making would be like if you really thought that something was worth an infinite amount.
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Old 03-21-08, 09:32 AM   #15
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The large majority of red light runners caught by cameras are those that seek past right after the yellow has changed to red. Those folks are annoying, but not very dangerous. They are not going to t-bone someone. The dangerous ones are the inattentive drivers who simply miss the light, and cameras won't deter them.
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Old 03-21-08, 09:45 AM   #16
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The large majority of red light runners caught by cameras are those that seek past right after the yellow has changed to red. Those folks are annoying, but not very dangerous. They are not going to t-bone someone. The dangerous ones are the inattentive drivers who simply miss the light, and cameras won't deter them.
But doesn't the evidence say that this statement is probably false?

EDIT: I am just going by the initial post and the quoted article.
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Old 03-21-08, 10:03 AM   #17
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The large majority of red light runners caught by cameras are those that seek past right after the yellow has changed to red. Those folks are annoying, but not very dangerous. They are not going to t-bone someone. The dangerous ones are the inattentive drivers who simply miss the light, and cameras won't deter them.
Drive in Phx-metro for a day and you will change you mind. These warm red runners cause many of the intersection accidents. Of course Arizona is an exception with 2x the red light fatalities over the second worst US state (Nevada)
http://www.iihs.org/news/2000/iihs_news_071300.pdf
http://www.stopredlightrunning.com/html/Arizona.htm

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Old 03-21-08, 10:18 AM   #18
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The large majority of red light runners caught by cameras are those that seek past right after the yellow has changed to red. Those folks are annoying, but not very dangerous.

Perhaps reality is different in Florida.

In Washington State, and in fact pretty much every place else that I've spent significant amounts of time, these folks certainly are dangerous - particularly to pedestrians.
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Old 03-21-08, 10:37 AM   #19
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Re the original article: You can't have it both ways!

A while ago, the revenue figures garnered from central London's "Congestion Charging" system were , with some anguish, reported to be lower than expected, because the system had reduced traffic.

Rewind 6 months to the launch of the system and Mayor Ken Livingstone championing the scheme's intent to reduce private vehicle use and congestion in the city, not as a way to make money.

Things are the same the world over it seems.

There have been cases in the UK where cameras are removed due to "unproductivity" and US readers would do well to remember that the UK has speed enforcement cameras as well as red light cameras...
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Old 03-21-08, 11:11 AM   #20
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The large majority of red light runners caught by cameras are those that seek past right after the yellow has changed to red. Those folks are annoying, but not very dangerous. They are not going to t-bone someone. The dangerous ones are the inattentive drivers who simply miss the light, and cameras won't deter them.
I think that the people attempting to sneak through do cause dangerous accidents, the basic problem being speed. When the driver at a right angle to them goes when their light turns green and doesn't see the sneaker gunning it to cheat the light there is a great possibility for an injury accident, increased by the additional speed now involved. Add to this pedestrians stepping off the curb when they see their walk signal who don't notice the sneaker...

It seems to me that rear-ending is a much less dangerous type of collision (although I could be wrong, as there is probably a greater chance for neck injury) than a T-bone...

I would appreciate a study that analyzes injuries rather than collisions and that also considers pedestrian safety.
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Old 03-21-08, 12:11 PM   #21
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Re the original article: You can't have it both ways!

A while ago, the revenue figures garnered from central London's "Congestion Charging" system were , with some anguish, reported to be lower than expected, because the system had reduced traffic.

Rewind 6 months to the launch of the system and Mayor Ken Livingstone championing the scheme's intent to reduce private vehicle use and congestion in the city, not as a way to make money.

Things are the same the world over it seems.

There have been cases in the UK where cameras are removed due to "unproductivity" and US readers would do well to remember that the UK has speed enforcement cameras as well as red light cameras...
I believe that a similar phenomenon happens with cigarette taxes as well. That is, as smoking taxes have increase, people have either smoked less or acquired their cigarettes from non-taxed sources; i.e., black market or American Indian reservations.

So yes, one should not be surprised that people respond to incentives ... hence the term "incentive".
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Old 03-21-08, 12:14 PM   #22
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Well ... just about everything -- including a human life -- can be measured by a reasonable metric like dollars. Consider what decision making would be like if you really thought that something was worth an infinite amount.
Any production facility that has any safety program usually uses "accident free days" as the metric, rather then trying to determine the value of human life.
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Old 03-21-08, 12:20 PM   #23
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[QUOTE=Blue Order;6376493]Do red light cameras work too well?

Some cities rethink devices as drivers pay heed, reducing fine revenue
By Alex Johnson
Reporter
updated 4:59 p.m. PT, Thurs., March. 20, 2008

Officials were promised that the cameras — which generally speaking take snapshots of busy intersections at the instant the light turns red, capturing the license plates of any cars that are still in the intersection — would simultaneously save lives and generate millions of dollars in extra fines. [Quote]

Did no-one spot the glaringly contradictory nature of this promise?

If you reduce the number of accidents, the inevitable consequence will be a reduction in the number of violations because people will pay more attention to the law! As for the increase in the number of rear-enders, leave it for a while and thse too will reduce in number and (probably) severity, because drivers will, eventually, (except maybe Florida) realise that the driver in front won't want a ticket and will also slow down.

It is a pleasure and a delight to watch political cowardice and official stupidity combine in action.

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Old 03-21-08, 12:25 PM   #24
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As for the increase in the number of rear-enders, leave it for a while and thse too will reduce in number and (probably) severity, because drivers will, eventually, (except maybe Florida) realise that the driver in front won't want a ticket and will also slow down.
Speeding and tailgating lead to rear enders.

An AZ study found that while rear enders did increase a bit, the severity of those rear end collisions decreased.
http://www.azdot.gov/TPD/ATRC/public.../PDF/AZ550.pdf

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Old 03-21-08, 12:28 PM   #25
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Originally Posted by genec View Post
Any production facility that has any safety program usually uses "accident free days" as the metric, rather then trying to determine the value of human life.
Although you have to spend resources -- typically measured in dollars -- to save lives and provide other services and goods. Consequently, when one makes such choices, whether implicitly or explicitly, there is a finite value of a life factored into the decision.

Just consider that different jobs have varying risks of mortality and injury. The wages those jobs earn -- along with other factors -- are a function of those risks. The relationship between the risk and wage gives you an idea of the value to a life.
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