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Virginia: City Hides Data Showing Increased Red Light Camera Injuries
More people ended up in the hospital after Virginia Beach, Virginia installed red light cameras.

Car crash
After holding out for more than three years, officials in Virginia Beach, Virginia finally released accident data that raise serious questions about whether the use of red light cameras has improved traffic safety in the city. Comparing three years before and three years after camera installation, the number of injury accidents went down 12 percent throughout the city. At the twelve intersections where red light camera tickets are issued, however, injury accidents went up 5 percent over the same period.

"The red light cameras made intersection safety measurably worse, yet Virginia Beach is on the cusp of renewing their red-light camera contract with vendor Redflex at the end of this month," National Motorists Association (NMA) President Gary Biller told TheNewspaper. "Withholding damning injury crash data until this late stage in the contract renewal process seems like a deliberative effort by the city to keep residents in the dark about the poor safety performance of the ticket cameras."

The NMA first requested the preliminary accident results in September 2010. The group repeated the public records request several times as consideration of the contract renewal with the Australian photo enforcement vendor grew near, only to be told the information was "not ready yet." After finally releasing the information, city officials dismissed the relevance of the climbing injury rate.

"It is not reasonable to assume that there were no other factors," city traffic engineer Robert K. Gey said in an email on Wednesday.

The total number of crashes at the photo enforced intersections did dip 11 percent after cameras were installed, but that represents worse performance than intersections without red light cameras which saw a 17 percent reduction. As of January, the cameras had issued 199,463 citations worth $10 million.

NMA engineer J.J. Bahen Jr. has been hammering Virginia Beach over inconsistencies in the way the photo ticketing program is run, including forcing the city to increase the yellow signal timing by 0.5 seconds in January to comply with state law. Bahen documented that 51,417 tickets worth $2.5 million were issued under the illegal timing. In Virginia Beach, $7.3 million worth of tickets have been issued solely to vehicles making rolling right turns on red, which Bahen says would disappear if the city used red arrows in its dedicated right-hand turn lanes.

"Modern signals would reduce rear-end crashes, improve intersection capacity, save fuel, reduce air pollution, and reduce diversions to less desirable routes such as residential streets," Bahen said. "They would also virtually eliminate right-turn violations."

That would wind up being too expensive for Virginia Beach. According to the city's traffic engineer, Virginia Beach cannot afford to make improvements to the right turn intersections such as the one at the corner of Great Neck Road and Virginia Beach Boulevard, which has issued the most right-turn citations.

"We are looking at using more right turn overlaps as funds become available," Gey wrote. "But they compete directly with safety fixes and these improvements, when appropriate, are not about improving safety but rather are about improving efficiency which is also a goal."

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