Do Traffic Cameras Work?

trafficcam.jpgThe answer appears to be no – at least according to one study in DC. According to a Washington Post article:

The District’s red-light cameras have generated more than 500,000 violations and $32 million in fines over the past six years. City officials credit them with making busy roads safer.

But a Washington Post analysis of crash statistics shows that the number of accidents has gone up at intersections with the cameras. The increase is the same or worse than at traffic signals without the devices.

Three outside traffic specialists independently reviewed the data and said they were surprised by the results. Their conclusion: The cameras do not appear to be making any difference in preventing injuries or collisions.

“The data are very clear,” said Dick Raub, a traffic consultant and a former senior researcher at Northwestern University’s Center for Public Safety. “They are not performing any better than intersections without cameras.” . . . .

The Post obtained a D.C. database generated from accident reports filed by police. The data covered the entire city, including the 37 intersections where cameras were installed in 1999 and 2000.

The analysis shows that the number of crashes at locations with cameras more than doubled, from 365 collisions in 1998 to 755 last year. Injury and fatal crashes climbed 81 percent, from 144 such wrecks to 262. Broadside crashes, also known as right-angle or T-bone collisions, rose 30 percent, from 81 to 106 during that time frame. Traffic specialists say broadside collisions are especially dangerous because the sides are the most vulnerable areas of cars. . . .

The results were similar or worse than figures at intersections that have traffic signals but no cameras. The number of overall crashes at those 1,520 locations increased 64 percent; injury and fatal crashes rose 54 percent; and broadside collisions rose 17 percent.

Hat tip: EPIC West Blog

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6 Responses

  1. KipEsquire says:

    You assume of course that the purpose of these cameras is truly to reduce accidents and not simply to raise revenue.

  2. Dave! says:

    Ditto. I am *quite* sure that here (in Chicago) the primary purpose of such cameras is to raise revenue. If it makes the streets safe, great, but I think everything in this town is motivated by raising revenue, first and foremost.

  3. Mike says:

    Me, three. Traffic cameras indeeed work: they bring in more money for the government to waste. Incidentally, traffic cameras also fail to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Here’s a very sad e-mail I received from a disabled person:

    “Our vehicle, displaying disabled plates, was ticketed by a red light camera speed trap for not stopping within the three second interval between the yellow and red light signals.

    “The City of Encinitas, California stated that disability and safety criteria for ticketing decisions are not factored into their instructions to the Sheriff’s Department that enforces the ordinance under a contract with the city. The tickets are forward to the San Diego Superior Court, which orders the vehicle’s owners to pay a $300+ fine or pay the fine as bail prior to trial.

  4. Paul Gowder says:

    Ouch. The analysis in that article is better than I thought it was. I was previously given to understand that the whole point of cameras was to reduce broadside collisions in favor of rear-end collisions, and thus reduce injuries.

    Does anyone know if 6th amendment challenges to these things are flying, by the way? I heard vaguely that someone lost with it in D.C. and someone else won with it in Colorado, but have nothing solid. The problem with this, as with all minor government impositions, of course is economic. I got hit with a camera ticket a few months ago, and eventually ended up regretfully paying after adding up the amount of time it would take me to wage constitutional warfare in the D.C. courts and comparing it to the $75.00 and no points ticket. I suspect that they couldn’t raise them much more or people would be more aggressive in challenging them and the revenue would go kaput.

    (Has anyone ever modeled the optimal level of fines for minor crimes taking into account the fact that as the fine increases, more people will fight it and create a cost burden on the system? Note to economists…)

    Another major grievance I have with the D.C. system is that they’ve contracted out much of the enforcement process to a private company. One wonders how much of the money is actually going back to public coffers.

    Oh, and Mike… is being allowed to run red lights really a reasonable accommodation? I don’t see how ticketing someone for running a red light violates the ADA.

  5. Mike says:

    Paul, I think you just like to argue with me. Anyhow, what if the the yellow-to-red time delay was only 1 second, and thus, persons with certain disabilities would not be able to react quickly enough? (I’m in good health, and one second would not be long enough for me.) Many perfectly healthy persons aren’t able to respond because of the shorter time delay. Local governments know this, but they don’t care, because, well, they’re government officials, and they want cash to waste. So imagine the burden the short delay imposes on certain disabled persons. (I.e., those capable of driving but whose reaction times are slightly off.) The “reasonable accomodation” would be a reasonable yellow-to-red time delay.

  6. John says:

    OBNOXIOUS! I hate these things. I had no moving violations for 20 years around the CHICAGO area. I got 1 recently and my wife, driving car in my name, also got one for (get this) turning right on red without adequate stopping time!!

    Chicago had an obnoxious reputation already for harrassing to citizens with its army of meter maids issuing parking tickets: now it seems to be ramping up again with more traffic cameras. And the fine is $100 !!! now!!! That is truly obnoxious and clearly the city cares only about revenue. Well, it will have this effect of curbing my desire to visit Chicago and spend money there. I REALLY someone could challenge this sh-t with a law suit, it’s totally overboard now.