The city of Fairfax is about to join Arlington and Falls Church in making its streets far more dangerous. The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) on March 28 gave its final blessing to the installation of red-light cameras at a pair of Fairfax intersections where the devices could not possibly result in any significant safety benefit.
In 2009, Fairfax struck a midnight bargain with an Australian company, Redflex Traffic Systems, that will issue tickets in return for a cut of the profit. Although officials insist “saving lives” is their sole motivation, data obtained from VDOT indicate their true interest lies elsewhere. Cameras will be installed at Fairfax Circle and at the intersection of University Drive and North Street, where there was a combined total of 73 accidents between 2007 and 2009. None of the incidents were fatal and only 10 were bad enough to have caused an injury. Even assuming a red-light camera could magically prevent every red-light running crash that happened over this period, the best Fairfax could hope for is an average reduction of 0.2 crashes per month.
Of course, we know red-light cameras don’t work quite so well because Fairfax previously operated red-light cameras at four intersections. Once they were activated, accidents increased at three of those locations. That’s because drivers who don’t want to get a ticket slam on their brakes at a yellow light, creating a rear-end shunt that wouldn’t have otherwise occurred.
This time around, Fairfax and Redflex have cooked up a new money-making twist. They are hoping to grab $50 each time someone makes a rolling right-hand turn on red. Studies show that while technically illegal, this practice is harmless. Public Works Director David Summers justified the turning tickets by claiming the city received complaints about people making turns “frightening pedestrians properly crossing in the crosswalk.” None of the data provided to The Washington Times indicate any collisions happened as a result of such turns.
Instead of entrapping people making minor mistakes, Fairfax should fix the dangerously short yellow warning times at these intersections.