Traffic Cameras: Safety or Cash?



Though his efforts did not succeed in banning traffic cameras from Iowa (“Two Decisions Made in Favor of Mobile Speed Cameras“), at least State Senator Brad Zaun of Urbandale had the courage to say that traffic  cameras can increase revenue, but not necessarily safety.  We’ve been down a similar path before, when cameras were added to the high-traffic intersections around town. Much debate went on then. Some of it as follows:

 According to the National Motorists Association, the media hype in favor of cameras has been a little slanted in some of our major cities:

  • In Los Angeles, 20 of 32 intersections studied showed an increase in accidents. One intersection tripled its accident rate. This was contrary to news reports.
  •  Washington, DC (According to the Washington Post) had a 107% increase in accidents.
  •  Portland, Oregon found a 140% increase in rear-end collisions.
  •  Fort Collins, Colorado saw a an 83% increase.
  •  Oceanside, California–this is a good one–800% increase in crashes.
  •  “The Newspaper” in Corpus Christie, Texas said, “Contrary to the claim that red light cameras reduce the severity of collisions, the number of accidents involving injuries increased 28 percent from 140 to 179. Rear end collisions also increased by nearly a third from 160 to 208.’

In Des Moines, the “2012 Traffic Camera Report” for the City of Des Moines reports that in the time period of January through March, 2012, the city has netted over $400.000, yet no column in the report gives information as to the safety factor. Was it improved? Was it worsened?

Is it profitable. Oh, yeah. Most Iowans have driven along Lakeshore Drive in Chicago at least once. A single intersection, according to CBS Chicago’s Pam Zekman, generated $1.5 Million in revenue for the city in just the year 2011. That intersection is on Lakeshore Drive.

Due to braking suddenly out of fear of the dreaded yellow light, most Des Moines residents have barely avoided rear-end collisions since the traffic cameras were installed . Others have bashed into the car in front of them that stopped abruptly for the same reason. Yet the metro cities seem to be eager to expand camera use.

At the beginning of this traffic control practice you may remember that camera-ticketed drivers even paid a much higher fine than a driver ticketed by an officer of the law. Apparently, the charges were for the company that installed the things in the first place. What is the cost per ticket on the new speed cameras going to be?

More on the Des Moines question of safety versus revenue, versus rights, versus innocent until proven guilty, etc. can be found at the Tax Update Blog.

Now we are looking at the implementation of speed cameras. Who has not been caught in a traffic jam on our freeways, not due to an accident, but because someone has been stopped by an officer for speeding?  It’s very frustrating. When a driver actually doing the speed limit sees this anomally, he or she seems programmed to slow to ten MPH below the speed limit. In a very few minutes, traffic is nearly at a standstill.  Obviously, our officers need to be doing their job of keeping traffic as close to the speed limit as possible, and we are obligated by law and morality to make it as safe as  possible for these men and women, but will the reaction be the same when motorists spot what they think is one of the mobile speed cameras? More traffic traveling at a crawl out of fear of being targeted by a camera?

Revenue or Safety. I’m still not sure which inspires our lawmakers more. I hope it is the latter.

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  • DiegoHenry

    Red light cams are Snake Oil. They can’t stop the real
    late runners, who cause the crashes. (If cameras worked, sellers wouldn’t have
    the crash videos they show us.)

    A real late runner (2+ secs. into the red) doesn’t do it
    on purpose. He doesn’t know (a visitor) or doesn’t remember (a distracted or
    impaired “local”) that there’s a camera up ahead, so the presence of
    a camera won’t stop him. To cut these real late runs, improve the visual cues
    that say, “signal ahead.” Florida’s DOT found that better pavement
    markings (paint!) cut running by up to 74%. Make the signal lights bigger, add
    backboards, and put the poles on the NEAR side of the corner. Put brighter
    bulbs in the street lights at intersections. Put up lighted name signs for the
    cross streets.

    Cameras are not “neutral” – they come with many
    side effects: They (indirectly) block emergency vehicles – cars stopped at a
    camera hesitate to get out of the way! Other side effects: Rearenders, local
    $$$ sent to Oz, AZ or Goldman-Sachs, where it won’t come back, and tourists and shoppers
    driven away.

    Want safety, no side effects?

    Install the visual cues.

    To cut car/pedestrian accidents, train your kids (and
    yourself) not to step out just ‘cuz the walk sign came on.

    To cut nuisance running (a fraction of a second late),
    lengthen the yellows. It’s cheap to do so can be done all over town.

    Who needs cameras?

    Who needs their side effects?

    Who needs gullible politicians who fall for Snake Oil?
    What will they fall for next?