EDITORIAL: Turn out the red lights
Members of the Virginia House of Delegates have a chance tomorrow to reverse one of the most reckless of the General Assembly’s past decisions. A bill before the House Militia, Police and Public Safety Committee would halt the spread of red-light cameras in the Old Dominion. The party’s over; it’s time to turn out the red-light cameras.
The measure’s author, Del. L. Scott Lingamfelter, argues there are more effective ways to achieve the alleged safety goals of photo enforcement. “If we want to fix the problem, then hire police officers to enforce the law and lengthen the yellow-light intervals, and I guarantee you that you’ll have a positive effect,” the Republican lawmaker told The Washington Times. “The very thing that we thought would make us safer is in fact resulting in more injuries and accidents at greater cost to the public.”
Sensing a legislative danger to their bottom line, companies that profit directly and indirectly from the use of red-light cameras rallied to the machines’ defense on Tuesday. The Insurance Institute for Higher Safety (IIHS), the Virginia-based mouthpiece for firms that raise rates on traffic-ticket recipients, produced a study that asserted installing Big Brother cams on every street corner would save 815 lives.
This is the same outfit that claimed the 1995 repeal of the 55 mile-per-hour speed limit has killed 12,545 people - never mind that the fatality rate has hit an all-time low as speed limits out west reach as high as 80 mph. Projections of how many lives “would have been saved” are spin, not science. What’s surprising is how many publications are still willing to take such wild claims at face value.
The latest jurisdiction to get in on the photo-enforcement action demonstrably has no interest in safety. Photo tickets began hitting the mail in Falls Church last month, but it’s simply not possible that this program will yield any significant safety benefit in the days ahead. That’s because the city doesn’t have a red-light-running accident problem. A private vendor installed cameras at two intersections along Route 7, one at Cherry Street, another at Annandale Road. Both locations experienced an average of just one red-light related accident per year. Assuming the camera worked the magic its backers promote, the best that could be expected is one less accident a year.
A far more realistic expectation is that more people will end up in hospitals and body shops. The locations with cameras experienced a far greater number of rear-end collisions, most of which involved injuries. Instead of addressing this problem, cameras only enhance the danger. In 2007, the Virginia Transportation Research Council reported that rear-end collisions increased 137 percent when Falls Church first dallied with automated ticketing a decade ago.
The most telling fact about what Falls Church is doing is that it submitted an official request to install additional cameras at Route 29 and West Marshall Street and Route 7 and Birch Street, locations that had zero red-light running accidents or no crash problem in general. In a Dec. 11, 2009, letter obtained by The Washington Times, the Virginia Department of Transportation shot down this brazen attempt to shake down the motoring public for cash. Now the General Assembly has a duty to step in and end this dangerous fraud once and for all.
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