What is the argument for red light cameras in the first place?
To properly answer the question, one need look no further than our City Commissioners. Voted in by the past Commission, their argument is that red light cameras make these intersections safer, and that it has nothing to do with generating revenue. Except nationwide, the empirical evidence doesn’t support that at all:
In the U.S. and Canada, a number of studies have examined whether red light cameras produce a safety benefit. A 2005 study by the U.S. Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) suggests red light cameras reduce dangerous right-angle crashes—but with an increase in the number of rear-end collisions, leading to the total number of collisions remaining unchanged.
To be fair, this FHWA study has been criticized on grounds that one of its co-directors had performed research for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), a private corporation representing the auto insurance industry that profits significantly from insurance surcharges on drivers ticketed by red light cameras. But this criticism may be off-base, because it implies that this one individual had an “axe to grind” with the IIHS, and skewed the study to give the insurance industry a black eye, despite the fact that they were all simply working with raw statistics.
The FHWA study has also been criticized as containing critical methodological and analytical flaws, and failing to explain an increase in fatalities associated with red light camera use:
An increase in fatalities associated with red light camera use!
A 2005 Virginia Department of Transportation study of the long-term effects of camera enforcement in the state found a decrease in the number of right-angle crashes with injuries, but an increase in rear-end crashes and an overall increase in the number of crashes causing injuries. In 2007, the department issued an updated report which showed that the overall number of crashes at intersections with red light cameras increased.
Aurora, Colorado experienced mixed results with red light cameras. After starting camera enforcement at 4 intersections, crashes decreased by 60% at one, increased 100% at two, and increased 175% at the fourth.
A 2010 analysis by the Los Angeles City Controller found LA’s red light cameras hadn’t demonstrated an improvement in safety, specifically that of the 32 intersections equipped with cameras, 12 saw more crashes than before the cameras were installed, 4 had the same number, and 16 had fewer crashes, but that factors other than the cameras may have been responsible for the reduced crashes at the 16 intersections.
In 2010, Arizona completed a study of their statewide 76 photo enforcement cameras and decided they would not renew the program in 2011. Lower than expected revenue, mixed public acceptance, and mixed accident data were cited.
Yes, there have been studies showing the advantage of red light cameras, but as of the November 2011 elections, photo enforcement in the U.S. had been defeated in 22 of 23 election contests. Were the voters in these elections law-breaking pedal-heavy maniacs who just wanted to run red lights? Of course not:
They are what we call Americans, living in a democracy, but this appears to be a foreign concept to Florida, and to Coral Springs Commissioners.
If there’s no solid argument for red light cameras, why the fuck do we have them?
Do you think it has anything to do with money, and not with actual safety, as its proponents claim? Gee, you would be right if you thought that!
Groups who “believe” red light cameras reduce crashes and increase safety have formed lobbying groups such as the Stop Red Light Running Coalition of Florida, which was created to lobby for a state law in Florida allowing red light cameras to be used. But guess what? These lobbying groups have ties to the red light camera industry. For example, a board member of the Stop Red Light Running Coalition of Florida was Ron Reagan, Treasurer of American Traffic Solutions’ (AFT’s) front group, The National Coalition for Safer Roads.
And guess what American Traffic Solutions sells?
You guessed it—red light cameras and operational services, resulting in revenue collection. (In fact, The National Coalition for Safer Roads is funded in large measure by the traffic camera industry.) And there is something very important that lobbyist groups do which affect public policy, right or wrong, and that’s contributing to political campaigns.
So in Florida, state law went into effect on July 1st, 2010 allowing red light cameras on all state-owned right-of-ways and the fining of drivers who run red lights, despite the objections of the Triple-A, who argued that the law was primarily for raising money for the state and local government coffers, and would not increase road safety. Because what Florida Rep can possibly resist that lobby money? (Broward County-owned roads come with severe restrictions for red light cameras, so Coral Springs Commissioners can’t easily, if at all, get their hands on those intersections.)
So in other words, more red light cameras mean more money for the manufacturers and operators (run by private companies who get a big piece of the fines action), more revenue for insurance companies (who get higher rates when someone is issued a citation), and more revenue for the city, with no proven effectiveness in cutting down on the number of accidents or any increase in public safety.
What a deal for you and me, huh? But there’s more:
The fucking cameras don’t even work correctly, issuing faulty citations left and right. In fact, they don’t work so badly that City Commissioners have even had to admit the fact, claiming recent improvement and promising improvements in the future. (And if you think these Commissioners will ever admit failure unless they had to, you can imagine how bad these camera systems are.) So what does the Commission decide to do about this bad technology, after they (supposedly) carefully investigated and vetted several prospective vendors for this contract way back when?
They decided to install these same shitty camera systems at three more intersections. (These guys spend so much time getting elected and congratulating themselves that they’ve totally lost the art of rational thinking.)
Coral Springs—in a world of its own with its own set of facts and its own set of delusions.
The city claims there were eleven “serious” accidents between September 2010 and April 2011 at the six currently camera-controlled intersections prior to the installation of the cameras—which was then reduced to five between January 2012 and June 2012 because of Big Brother’s eye-in-the-sky. However, there are some serious questions about their definition of the word “serious,” most probably skewed to make the cameras seem more effective than they actually were.
But there are bigger problems with the City’s horrible PR effort, and the Commission’s failure to once again recognize fact over fiction…reality over wishful thinking:
1) Why do they quote accident figures from the first half of 2012, when we are now in the second half of 2013? This would indicate a no-effect improvement with the cameras in 2013, and more probably, a decline, since their timeframe is so suspicious.
2) Can we please see the accident statistics for all intersections in the city, those not controlled by red light cameras, during this same timeframe? From a statistical standpoint, it’s pretty ignorant to claim a cause-and-effect “win” for a camera-controlled intersection when non-controlled intersections have seen similar or superior reductions in accidents. (It’s called “Statistics 101,” and maybe these shmucks should take the course instead of voting on stuff they know nothing about.) To summarize, more often than not, statistics can be made to say anything you want them to say, but these guys are cooking the books and ignoring everything about simple data and research analysis.
3) Our six camera-controlled intersections supposedly saw a reduction of eleven serious accidents (all combined) to five serious accidents (based on the suspicious methodology questioned above). Did one intersection see a reduction of six accidents to zero, and the others none? Did six intersections see a reduction of one accident each, and one none? Neither scenario makes sense for the math of six intersections, 11 serious accidents pre-camera, and 5 serious accidents post-camera.
Or was it two accident reductions here…one here…three there? (Just asking, for God’s sake!) As of the date of this article, was any research done on the above results and methodology of its findings to warrant the installation of three new camera-controlled intersections?
Do we have a fucking algebra genius out there who can shed light on this, because the math makes no sense to us, especially considering the safety criteria for placing the cameras at a specific intersection in the first place! Was a camera placed at Royal Palm and University based on just ONE pre-camera accident, and the City Commissioners are claiming it’s a SAFETY issue and not a MONEY issue!?
4) 3,386 violations were issued from January 2013 through June 2013. THREE THOUSAND, THREE HUNDRED AND EIGHTY-SIX VIOLATIONS ISSUED FOR A TOTAL REDUCTION OF SIX ACCIDENTS!
Are these guys fucking NUTS!? More than 3,000 people fined, arguably illegally fined (privacy rights anyone?), for a reduction rate of six accidents based on the city’s “study” from a totally different timeframe?
5) The city netted $300,000 from the red light cameras in 2012, but they still claim it isn’t about the money. I applaud their claim, and if true, let’s donate every dollar to the Red Cross! (How else to convince Coral Springers that this isn’t about money?)
Based on 3,386 violation for the first half of 2013 at the initial fine notice of $158, this would extrapolate to 6,772 violations for all of 2013, totaling $1,069,976 if everyone paid their bill immediately. (As of recently, there was no way to argue the ticket, and this was totally okay with Coral Springs Commissioners, until the State told them that they have to install a special magistrate so us citizens can actually be innocent until proven guilty.) If one doesn’t pay the $158 fine, its gets upped to a $263 “regular” ticket—adding God knows how much to that $1,069,976 total.
At the August 21st Commission Meeting, Vice Mayor Tom Powers reiterated that the red light camera program wasn’t about the money, and he and Mayor Boccard and others even giggled about how little money the program was actually generating for the City, and that it was “phenomenally successful” in reducing accidents. (We first ask, “Huh!?” and then ask why every Commissioner uses the term “phenomenally successful” every chance they get.)
Well, Mr. Powers—maybe that $300,000 the city received in 2012 was chump change to you, and maybe the doubling or tripling of that in 2013 will still seem like chump change to you (even with our camera provider ACS/Xerox taking a huge cut of the revenues).
But that’s coming out of people’s pockets, for no reason at all.
Patting yourselves on the back for a job well done doesn’t actually make it a job well done. You’ve done nothing for public safety here, and you Commissioners still think that congratulating each other every other minute of the day makes you successful city administrators, when in fact…when you look at the facts…you all come across like clueless, pompous morons.
Want to reduce red light running and its tragic accidents? It’s pretty fucking simple!
You increase the delay between the green light coming on in the east-west direction and the red light coming on in the north-south direction. A full second is all it takes, and it can affect all lighted intersections in the city at zero cost—and undeniably and dramatically reduce the number of accidents.
So our Commissioners are either total shmucks as The Coral Springer claims, or it is all about the money, which we also claim.
Ira Rather writes for TheCoralSpringer.com and shares the real story behind the red light cameras. Rather has not only worked for the Florida’s Turnpike, he has studied and worked with the Federal Highway Administration’s MUTCD—Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices—for several years. The MUTCD is the bible of road traffic design, updated majorly just every ten years or more, only when new systems, techniques and devices have been fully vetted and tested. While there are no laws binding any state or municipality to the “rules” of the MUTCD, most follow some level of adherence to its edicts for liability purposes, to avoid litigation from injured parties due to faulty traffic design.
As of 2013, the MUTCD has categorized red light cameras as “Optional” for safe intersection control, as opposed to “Recommended” or “Preferred.”
Ira Rather is an advertising professional and sometimes publisher of www.thecoralspringer.com. He is a former Brooklynite and 20-year Coral Springs resident. In his spare time, he interacts with private and governmental agencies to implement policies and establish new regulations for the aggressive hunting and eradication of the invasive Burmese Python.