Thursday, May 15, 2008

Say NO to Red-Light Cameras

I'd like to discuss an issue that upsets me. That issue is the fact that dozens of red-light cameras are going up all over the country. Advocates claim that these cameras keep people from running red lights and are keeping people safer. But from my research, what they actually do is cause more accidents, don't stop people from running red lights, and are purely there to gain revenue for the state. Not that it shocks me though; its just like the government to instate a policy which makes them richer at the expense of human safety.

Without further adieu, let me just get to the meat and potatoes of my post and get down to the statistics.

The first issue I want to raise is the fact that red light cameras have not been proven to be effective in several studies done across the U.S.

A study done by USF Health, and released in March of 2008, shows that "cameras are significantly associated with increases in crashes, as well as crashes involving injuries. The study by the Virginia Transportation Research Council also found that cameras were linked to increased crash costs."

Another important finding of this USF Health study was "[s]ome studies that conclude cameras reduced crashes or injuries contained major 'research design flaws,' such as incomplete data or inadequate analyses, and were conducted by researchers with links to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The IIHS, funded by automobile insurance companies, is the leading advocate for red-light cameras. Insurers can profit from red-light cameras, since their revenues will increase when higher premiums are charged due to the crash and citation increase, the researchers say.

Langland-Orban said the findings have been known for some time. She cites a 2001 paper by the Office of the Majority Leader, U.S. House of Representatives, reporting that red-light cameras are 'a hidden tax levied on motorists.' The report concluded cameras are associated with increased crashes, the timings at yellow lights are often set too short to increase tickets for red-light running, and most research concluding cameras are effective was conducted by one researcher from the IIHS. Since then, studies independent of the automobile insurance industry continue to find cameras are associated with large increases in crashes."

A study done by the government itself (!) showed that red light cameras cause just about as many accidents as they stop. This study, done by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA-HRT-05-048) in April of 2005, shows that in some jurisdictions the cameras only reduce right-angle crashes by as much as 40%, while the rear end collisions have gone up as much as 38%.

Another aspect of this study estimated how many collisions occurred before and after the installation of the red light cameras, and here are the findings:

Before the installation of the cameras they noted a total of 1,542 right angle crashes, with 351 "definite injuries." The total of rear end collisions were estimated at 2,521 with 131 "definite injuries."

After the cameras were put in place they found a reduction of 24.6% right angle crashes, with 1,163 crashes, and 296 "definite injuries." While the rear end collisions went up to 2,896 with 163 "definite injuries."

In total, after the cameras were put in place, there was only a 24.6% drop in right angle crashes, and a 15.7% decrease in injuries. On the other hand, there was a 14.9 increase of rear end collisions, with a 24.0% increase of "definite injuries."

These figures sure don't look very promising, with not even a reduction of half of the right-angle crashes. The red light camera proponents tout their safety benefits but it's obvious they cause about as many crashes as they stop.

Another study that was done in California between 2004 to 2005 showed similar results. The year before cameras were installed, they monitored three intersections in the city of Costa Mesa and found that there were 39 accidents, while after the cameras were installed, it was reduced to 28; a drop of only 28%. While in the city of Fullerton there was a total of 88 crashes before the cameras, and 83 after; only a 5.7% decrease.

In fact, they even did a study in Westminster, which had no cameras, and from 2003 to 2004, there was a 24.1 % drop in crashes, though they attribute that to "added raised medians."

On page 7 of the study, they ask "Are RLC's 'cash cows' for cities?" They answer with a bit of a round-about answer saying that 33% of the fines were not paid. Yet, just above they ask the question "RCLs aren't cheap. Why use them?" They give their reasons about safety, etc., but the very last sentence they say, "In addition, RLCs are seen as a potential source of municipal revenue." They right out admit it's mostly about money, because even their own study shows that they do not reduce accidents to a worthwhile amount.

In a 2005 Washington Post article, they reported "that the number of accidents has gone up at intersections [ in D.C.] with the cameras," and that the "increase is the same or worse than at traffic signals without the devices."

The story also reported that, "[t]hree outside traffic specialists independently reviewed the data and said they were surprised by the results. Their conclusion: The cameras do not appear to be making any difference in preventing injuries or collisions.

'The data are very clear,' said Dick Raub, a traffic consultant and a former senior researcher at Northwestern University's Center for Public Safety. 'They are not performing any better than intersections without cameras.'"

A study of the issue showed that "the number of crashes at locations with cameras more than doubled, from 365 collisions in 1998 to 755 last year. Injury and fatal crashes climbed 81 percent, from 144 such wrecks to 262. Broadside crashes, also known as right-angle or T-bone collisions, rose 30 percent, from 81 to 106 during that time frame. Traffic specialists say broadside collisions are especially dangerous because the sides are the most vulnerable areas of cars."

The article continues, "the number of crashes and injury collisions at intersections with cameras rose steadily through 2001, then dipped through 2003 before spiking again last year.

The results were similar or worse than figures at intersections that have traffic signals but no cameras. The number of overall crashes at those 1,520 locations increased 64 percent; injury and fatal crashes rose 54 percent; and broadside collisions rose 17 percent.

Overall, total crashes in the city rose 61 percent, from 11,333 in 1998 to 18,250 last year.

Lon Anderson, a spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, said the data reinforce the motor club's view that the red-light effort is targeted more at generating revenue than at reducing crashes. 'They are making a heck of a lot of money, and they are picking the motorists' pockets on the pretense of safety,' he said."

To give the reader an idea of how much money the state rakes in, some of the articles I read said that the revenue generated by the cameras was in the millions in many cities. For example, in the Washington Post article I just cited said that in six years the cameras generated $32 million in fines.

The second issue I wanted to address was the privacy issue. Many advocates of red light cameras claim that all the cameras do is take a picture of the back of your vehicle to get your license plate number. Well, this sounded logical at first but after finding some actual pictures taken by red light cameras online I've found this to be a lie. These pictures prove that their field of vision is very broad, and it makes perfect sense that they would have to be that way, because if you're going to take a picture of a speeding car you can't just focus on a smaller area, around the license plate for example, because of the speed of the car. Depending on the speed you've got to give yourself a lot of room for error so you can be sure you get the person's plate number, or else the camera might miss the speeding vehicle.

Here are some examples of pictures from red light cameras I found on the internet, and one diagram showing how they work:

In the final picture, above, you can easily see the broad range of view that these cameras have, despite the lies of many proponents. Someone has to zoom into the picture in order to see the license plate, and/or face of the driver.

There are also more privacy concerns as well. According to a news website I found, "Lockheed Martin, which makes about 85 percent of [the red light cameras], often leases the cameras to cities because they are expensive, and enables Lockheed Martin to retain rights to all the data collection, he said.

'Cost averages between $60,000 and $90,000 per camera. You're looking at a quarter of a million dollars for one intersection,' Burns said. 'The camera company gets about $70 per citation.'

This means private companies are allowed to have sensitive information, he said, and they can use it for whatever they want."

According to the ACLU website, a privacy invasion has already occurred with cameras placed at a border.

From the website, they say, "There are also important privacy issues raised by the cameras. The ACLU is most concerned about what we call 'mission creep' -- that the data collected by these cameras will be used for purposes other than tracking reckless drivers. Government and private-industry surveillance techniques created for one purpose are rarely restricted to that purpose, and every expansion of a data bank and every new use for the data opens the door to more and more privacy abuses.

Similar systems have already been used to invade privacy. For example, cameras installed at the Texas-Oklahoma border have been used to capture the license plate numbers of thousands of law abiding persons, who were subjected to inquiries about why they were crossing the border."

Despite these valid concerns, the proponents of these cameras claim that it's not an invasion of privacy because you're out in a public area and have no say about any footage that might be taken of you. I've heard this claim in regards to voyeurs taking picture and video of women in a bathing suit outside of their homes, and there was nothing they could do to get it away from them because it was claimed they had no right to privacy while out in public.

I find this odd and hypocritical because if it's OK for someone to take video of you out in public, why was there such an uproar when Google took pictures of places for their map service and ended up capturing people walking, or even in their underware, and they were able to get Google to remove the images? There was even a couple who took Google to court in 2001 because it had a picture of their house on it's map service and the couple felt it was an invasion of privacy.

OK, so let's see here. In one instance the government wants to put up cameras and watch everyone, and no one really cares, and some even defend this clear invasion. In another case, a company pretty much does the same thing and people complain about it. Some might argue that Google's images were online and more accessible, but think about all the footage who knows who has of who knows what, and where it all might end up??? To me, that seems much scarier. Plus the fact that Google has allowed you to remove any images of yourself that you don't want online, so you have more control over your privacy than you do with the government (or who knows who else?).

In case it's not clear, the point I am trying to make is many peoples' hypocritical nature. On the one hand, they don't seem to care if their privacy is invaded upon by the government (or even Lockheed Martin!), while in the case with Google, people actually took them to court, and they even changed their ways by allowing someone to delete any private information, even if it was in public, when all along the proponents of the cameras claimed that because you were in public you had no right to privacy. Well, which is it people? Do you have a right of privacy in public or not? I say no one has any right to photograph, or video tape you without your permission - period - no matter where you are.

I think I've done a good job in proving my case that not only do these red light cameras not work in reducing accidents, but they also pose a significant privacy threat to everyone. Some people might see this as an overreaction on my part, but I feel these cameras are only the beginning of a police state, much like Orwell's 1984, in which everyone is watched at all times. I also see this situation as being similar to the fiasco with 9/11 and the "Patriot Act," which tramples over all manner of our civil liberties for the sake of "protection." Just as with the "Patriot Act" these cameras can be used to spy, all under the guise of them being used solely for "protecting" us, and people ignorantly allow such breaches of their privacy. Let me tell you something. It's nothing but a lie!