2/11/2005Opinion: The Danger of Red Light Cameras
An opinion piece from the Virginian-Pilot that argues that the state should reject red light cameras.
Are red light cameras a danger to the public? In this opinion piece, a case is made for the rejection of red light cameras in Virginia. On the day it appeared in the Virginian-Pilot, the committee of jurisdiction in the House of Delegates rejected the devices by a vote of 15-6. If their decision stands, all cameras would be removed from the state by July 1.
by Richard Diamond
It's always the drivers fault, and never the governments. At least, that's what we are led to believe by proponents of red-light camera enforcement.
They say that cameras are urgently needed to stop accidents at our intersections. To them, the only people who could possibly oppose the automated solution to this problem are either ignorant fools or mad red-light runners.
There happens to be several sound reasons to oppose these devices, but the simplest is the most powerful: They don't work. A brand new study of Virginia's seven localities using cameras, conducted by the Virginia Transportation Research Council, found that overall injury accidents actually increased at intersections where cameras are used. State lawmakers should consider this when deciding whether to pass legislation to extend the cameras past the June 30 sunset date.
It may seem strange that the cameras would increase accidents. But imagine you are driving on a rainy afternoon toward an intersection where you know there's a camera. The light turns yellow, and you decide to be extra cautious and hit the brakes. The surprised big rig driver behind you didn't anticipate your move and is unable stop in time. He slams into your car.
Now, it's easy to blame the truck driver for following too closely, but the blame game isn't going to fix your car or heal any of your injuries.
The research council report, titled An Evaluation of Red Light Camera Enforcement Programs in Virginia, proves that incidents such as the one described above are common.
This also means it's not just scofflaws who should be troubled by cameras; there are a substantial number of law-abiding citizens who are harmed by them. As the report states, "... the cameras are contributing to a definite increase in rear-end crashes, a possible decrease in angle crashes, a net decrease in injury crashes attributable to red-light running, and an increase in total injury crashes." (See the report.)
Camera proponents defend their position by jumping on the possibility that angle crashes are down, and they say that because that type of accident is more severe than a rear-end accident, cameras are good on balance.
Notice how this differs from the original claim that cameras were urgently needed to stop accidents. Now their claim has been reduced to saying that cameras merely rearrange accidents—trading one type for another.
Keep in mind we are talking about accidents that cause injury in both cases, not merely a tap on the bumper. To me, it seems unconscionable to promote a government policy that creates injuries that would not have otherwise occurred.
If the public safety benefit is so questionable, why do so many politicians and safety groups promote the devices?
It's simple. Over the long term, cameras are proven money-makers. Camera contractors like Dallas-based ACS and Australia-based Redflex take as much as 90 percent of the revenue from paid citations. In every single case, they profit quite handsomely.
Likewise, insurance companies profit when they raise the rates of drivers who have points on their license. Virginia does not issue points yet but California, Arizona and countries overseas do. This means billions of dollars to the industry. It should come as no surprise that these companies in turn fund a majority of special interest safety groups that promote photo enforcement.
Although Virginia localities haven't quite mastered the profit margins other cities are seeing yet, a doubling of the ticket amount has already been proposed. The significant profit potential emerges once the public becomes accustomed to ticket-in-the-mail enforcement.
In California, for example, fines have increased to $350 per ticket. Other cities like Washington, D.C., have taken the next logical step and installed photo radar. The nation's capital has already issued the equivalent of two tickets for every single resident of the city. It's a license to print money.
Why on earth would anyone accept all the downsides of camera use in return for more injury accidents? The legislature should let the failed red-light camera experiment expire.
Richard Diamond is a board member of the National Motorists Association Foundation. The tax-exempt organization was founded in 1999.