Feb 19

Why They Want us to See Red (Light Cameras)

Alexis Grant over at the Chronicle's new City Hall Blog (A nice blog by the way) reported last week that The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) released a new report last week on the improvement of intersection safety with the installation of red light cameras.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety is an organization that researches and lobbies for changes to laws at the federal, state and local levels.  It's funding is entirely from the insurance companies that we pay every month to provide coverage on our vehicles.

Over the weekend, I had a chance to read the report that Alexis was reporting about.  The IIHS report points out many flaws in their methodology, proving that their research is, for the most part, invalid.

The report focuses on two intersections in Philadelphia which were scheduled to get red light cameras, and three in Atlantic County, New Jersey that police say warranted cameras, but were not allowed by state law.

For one, the sampling period.  The interval of time after yellow lights were lengthened was only 6 weeks before the sampling was taken.  A few weeks later the red light cameras were turned on, and after 4 months grace period (warnings) and 12 months of enforcement, the final sampling was taken.  3 samples were tainted by malfunctioning equipment but they claim that didn't skew the results.

In fact, they even attest to longer yellow lights improving red light running over 12 months.  Could some of the improvement actually have been the longer yellows and not the cameras?

Another flaw is where the samples were taken.  The six experimental sites (the ones that had their timing changed and red light cameras) averaged 31,000 cars a day, whereas the three control sites (no changes made during the study) averaged 14,000 cars.  The report also says that the control sites were taken 50 miles away in New Jersey; meaning that a separate state, county and local jurisdiction could have tainted the results as well.

The conclusion of the report discusses 90% or more reduction in red light running.  It does not track the increase in rear-end collisions, as drivers slam on their brakes to avoid getting a ticket.

So, lets take some facts that the makers of the cameras, nor the city council, fail to tell you.

Innocent until proven guilty – A basic right in our country.  It's a part of our legal system.  With red light cameras, you're guilty until proven innocent, or otherwise incriminate someone else.

Face your accuser – another of our basic rights.  It's kind of hard to face a camera in court, let alone question it.

Cameras will not stop dangerous drivers – A drunk driver won't pull over for a camera flash, nor will it stop the guy that's driving 100 MPH.  That's what real police have to do.

It's all about safety – If that's the case, then why did Affiliated Computer Services of Dallas spend over $305,000 in lobbying as well as the campaigns of several elected officials in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania?  What the stories don't answer is how much did the IIHS spend on lobbying and campaigns? (Story credits: Don Russell, Philadelphia Daily News, 2003)

It will reduce accidents – The same intersections in the IIHS report actually saw an increase in the rear-end collisions in the first several months the cameras were active. (Story credit: Gwen Shaffer, Philadelphia Weekly, 2005)

It's no longer about protecting the public, if it was, there wouldn't be a need for these cameras.

(Editorial note – story references courtesy the National Motorists Association. This does not constitute an endorsement of all of their positions on traffic safety laws, only in the matters of camera enforcement.)



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