Studies: Red light cameras causing more accidents

After running around after Wet Willy, aka Isaac, it's time to get back to politics.

This time, let's talk about red light cameras, those traffic-ticket machines that politicians and the companies that profit from them say save lives. One of the great champions of red light cameras in South Florida is Hallandale Beach Mayor Joy Cooper, who has penned editorials in the Miami Herald and Sun-Sentinel and other publications urging support of the cameras. "Envision losing your grandparent, parent, sibling, spouse, friend or the unthinkable — a child — because a driver ran a red light," Cooper has written. "... . Once a fatal traffic collision occurs, it is irretrievably over. There is only one way to avoid this fate, and that is to prevent the crash from ever taking place. This is why I championed red-light cameras for Hallandale Beach, and why I continue to support cameras in our community."

But now a new analysis done on Hallandale Beach red light camera intersections -- and picked up by Hallandale Beach Blog -- has found that the cameras haven't increased safety.  In fact, those intersections have been stricken with more accidents since the cameras were installed, according to the study:

Despite a reduction in red light running crashes at the one intersection, this analysis has
shown that the use of automated for-profit law enforcement devices has not increased the
safety for the motoring public in the City of Hallandale Beach, Florida. To the contrary, from
a safety perspective, the number of crashes for both intersections where it has been placed in
use have increased, with significant increases at one intersection. There were no fatal crashes.
A review of extended data for one intersection showed the same red light running crash
reduction from 2008-2009 with no device use.

An August 2010 news story reported that 94% of all tickets issued in Hallandale Beach at the
first intersection (since December 2009) were for right-turn violations, which by their nature
do not cause the serious injury or fatal crashes that straight-through violations do. When the
new 2010 state law was followed, violations declined 77% in the course of two (2) months.

The study was done by retired Florida State Trooper Paul Henry, who has become something of a crusader against the cameras. I haven't checked his findings, but his study isn't the first to show that red light cameras have increased traffic accidents. This from a recent Washington Times piece: "The Virginia Transportation Research Council conducted a seven-year study at 28 intersections with red light cameras in six jurisdictions in Northern Virginia. They found that the crash rate actually increased by 12 percent at these intersections after implementation of red-light cameras."

Why the increase? Again from the Times: "It turned out that the cameras were a double-edged sword; red-light running crash rates decreased by 42 percent, but rear-end collisions increased 27 percent. The increase in total crashes, despite the significant reduction in red-light running crashes, was due to the fact that there were four times more rear end collisions than red-light running crashes."

I spoke with Mayor Cooper today and she agreed to talk about the red light cameras in her city tomorrow. "My staff is reviewing the study," she said. "There are a lot of inaccuracies." 

More coming on this issue.