Much mischief is done under the smile of safety, as can been seen in the nearby National Safety Council letter responding to an editorial that ran in this space last week (Tues, Aug. 3). Contrary to the letter, the Federal Highway Administration "had nothing to do with" this year's National Stop on Red Week campaign, according to an agency spokesman who explained that, "We had been involved a few years back - a long time ago, maybe 10 years, but not this year." Instead, support came primarily from the entities that profit from robotic ticketing cameras.
The simple fact is that installing such devices is the last thing one should do to reduce intersection hazards. In a peer-reviewed 2008 analysis, the Florida Public Health Review linked camera use to an increase in injury accidents and insurance rates. A 2004 study by the North Carolina Urban Transit Institute concluded that cameras "are associated with higher levels of many types and severity categories of crashes."
The 2007 Virginia Transportation Research Council (VTRC) report on photo enforcement is the most often cited because it is also the most comprehensive. It did not find that accidents increased after "a camera" was installed in the "short term," as the National Safety Council letter claims. VTRC studied all five Northern Virginia communities that used cameras over the course of seven years - that's 28 intersections with cameras, compared with 44 camera-free locations. The finding that injuries increased 18 percent and overall accidents by nearly a third has been so embarrassing that the industry has resorted to attacking the credibility of the Virginia Department of Transportation and the University of Virginia, which jointly conducted the research. The study's authors not only published interim findings in 2005, but they also made the raw data available online for independent review.
That kind of openness isn't found in the purportedly scientific studies used to justify pro-camera public policy. The majority of these reports were crafted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which describes itself as "a communications organization funded by auto insurers." Those insurance firms reap an annual windfall in the millions from surcharges on red-light-camera ticket recipients in states like Arizona and California. It's not surprising this group's findings help the corporate bottom line.
The 762 average annual fatalities - the figure hasn't been "900," as the letter stated, since 2004 - from red-light running are indeed tragic, but this total isn't going to be reduced by deploying more cameras. Equally tragic are the 1,690 deaths every year from people falling down a flight of stairs. Perhaps one day there will be a National Hold onto the Handrails Week, but that's not likely to happen until someone invents a camera that can issue tickets in a stairwell.
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