Study: Accidents in Texas decline signficantly at red-light-camera intersections

Earlier in the week, the Chronicle's Matt Stiles reported on a state-mandated red-light camera study:

A statewide study by institute researchers shows that monitored intersections had an overall 30 percent decrease in collisions.

The state-mandated report, released Tuesday by the Texas Department of Transportation, examined data from 56 intersections across the state, including many in Houston, from July 1, 2007, to June 30.

The data and analysis are limited because some cities' cameras went online during the study period and their post-installation data were not complete. But the report states that the cameras could be changing driver behavior.

"While these results cannot conclusively determine that red light cameras are responsible for the overall reduction in crashes ... the presence of the treatment provided some effect on the frequency of crashes at the selected intersections for the limited time period of this analysis," the report states.

The study examined crashes at select intersections from 12 cities that were required to report accidents under a new state law. The data show that right-angle collisions were reduced by 43 percent, while rear-end collisions increased by 5 percent, mirroring the results of other studies across the nation.

Chronicle letter writer Dell Ayres remains skeptical, however:

In response to Wednesday's Page One story "RED-LIGHT CAMERAS CUT WRECKS 30% / A&M analysis finds that system does more than collect millions of dollars for cities": I would be more impressed with the 30 percent reduction figure if Texas A&M University had also included statistics from a comparable number of intersections that do not have cameras.

I suspect that $4-a-gallon gas had more to do with the drop than cameras. Since there were fewer cars on the road, it makes sense that there would be fewer accidents. Camera or no camera.

It's doubtful that traffic at dangerous intersections declined 43% (the reduction in right-angle collisions at monitored intersections), but the letter writer does raise a good point about needing to have some standard of comparison. It would be helpful to know statistics about dangerous intersections that don't currently have red-light cameras.

It does stand to reason that highly-publicized enforcement efforts are likely to result in a reduction of the undesired behavior, all things being equal. That's why I've never understood why the signage at intersections monitored by red-light cameras in Houston is so minimal (almost invisible). Some communities that use red-light cameras have much more prominent signage, which acts as a deterrent. Indeed, some places have even been known to use prominent signage and dummy camera equipment for the deterrent effect. If it's all about safety (and not at all about the revenue), then one might expect more prominent signage at Houston's camera-monitored intersections. But there is minimal signage in Houston, and the city refuses to do more.

And that brings us to my other longstanding concern. Even if the city's motive is some combination of revenue and safety, the red-light camera vendor's motive is revenue. In other cities, we have seen the red-light times adjusted in ways that "catch" more violators and boost revenue. We trust Mayor White when he says that he won't put up with that here, but the fact is he's already plotting his next political campaign, and won't always be in charge here -- but the company that has an incentive to boost its revenues will still be around.

And finally, we come to my last objection to the current system -- the inconvenience it causes to someone wrongly accused. The city could easily have required a system that would snap a photo of the driver and provide positive ID of violators, but it declined to build what would have been a fairer system. We do know that camera-enforcement errors can happen, and it's a pain to straighten out such errors. It would have been nice if Houston's system had been designed with more of a positive ID-component.

Still, it's good news that bad drivers are paying a little more attention to red lights at some intersections. If the cameras are responsible, great. They're obviously not going away. So who could object to improving the signage, educational, and due-process components of Houston's system (if it's not at all about the revenue)?

BLOGVERSATION: Lose an Eye, It's a Sport.

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 12/04/08 11:33 PM | Print |

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