Red Light Cameras Working as Intended: They're Making Money.

Nashville's News Channel 5 posts this headline:

Red Light Cameras Cut Down on Crashes

It's referring to an article in the Clarksville Leaf Chronicle with this headline:

Red light cameras working in Clarksville, police chief says

But look at the actual numbers and it's not at all clear that the cameras are "working," at least if you believe "working" to mean "making the roads safer." What's clear is that local authorities want to give the impression that the cameras are preventing accidents, even if the numbers don't bear that out. The police chief focuses on side-impact collisions, which fell from 72 in 2008 to 64 in 2009 after the cameras were installed. That's a modest drop, and it wasn't consistent across the city. For example, one intersection had four side-impact collisions in 2008, five in 2009, and has seen 11 already this year.

In fact, overall collisions are up at the intersections where Clarksville has installed red light cameras (a result we've seen nearly everywhere they've been installed). The city just chooses to ignore rear-impact collisions when evaluating the cameras. Those collisions increased from 138 in 2008, to 173 in 2009, to 169 through October of this year. It's true that side-impact collisions are generally more dangerous than rear-impact collisions. But even taking that into consideration, it's a bit of a stretch to say that a decrease of eight side-impact collisions coupled with an increase of 25 rear-impact collisions shows that the cameras are preventing accidents.

But there is one way that the cameras are working out quite well:

Clarksville’s red light camera program has already issued more than 10,000 tickets, bringing in about $1 million in revenue.

Interestingly, about $600,000 of that revenue goes to Redflex Traffic Systems, Inc., the company that manufactures and operates the cameras. And how's this for a display of twisted incentives:

Buoyed by the program’s early results, police plan to expand the program to two other intersections, Highway 76-Interstate 24 and Fort Campbell Boulevard-Lafayette Road. Both are in the top 10 in number of accidents.

Ansley said they have to wait for Redflex’s approval, because any new intersections would have to be profitable for the company to cover the cost of the cameras.

So Redflex gets to dictate where the cameras go. Which means that if the cameras really are effective at preventing accidents and red light runners, as the intersections get safer, Redflex's profit margins (and city revenues) get thinner. If I were a Redflex executive, I'd put the cameras at intersections where there's lots of red-light running, but where cameras aren't likely to be very effective at preventing it.

The best approach doesn't bring in any revenue, for camera makers or city governments: Lengthening the duration yellow lights has proven to be much more effective at preventing accidents than cameras. Which of course is why several cities have been caught making intersections more dangerous by shortening yellow lights in order to generate more tickets.

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  • hmm||

    I don't pay them. They want their money they can issue a bench warrant and take me to court. Until then fuckem'

  • Tim||

    Sweet. Then the SWAT team mistakenly breaks down my door and shoots my dog looking for you because you live at 15 Elm street and I live at 50 Elm Street.

  • hmm||

    I don't own a dog. Given the SWAT guys I have shot against I'm pretty sure the scurrying hiding critters are safe. I do own enough to at least make the first 3 guys regret the entry. Gotta love early 1900 floor plans, full of choke points from the entry on.

  • Tim||

    My point is it won't be your house, it'll be my house when I am standing there putting batteries in the TV remote which will be mistaken for an Uzi.

  • hmm||

    Lil' slow today.

    Maybe get something better than an uzi? =0

  • ||

    Ansley said they have to wait for Redflex’s approval, because any new intersections would have to be profitable for the company to cover the cost of the cameras.

    Cue resident dipshit progressives to explain to us how this is the inevitable result of "corporate rule".

  • Steve||

    Irony is so ironic!

  • ||

    I'm no progressive, but I think this is an example of a corporate buyout, so to speak.

  • Jeffersonian||

    Which means, of course, the progressive dipshits would be perfectly fine with the cameras if their revenue went 100% to the cities using them. Of course, they'd still bellyache about the wicked KKKorporate fatcats that sold them...

  • 8||

    Yesterday I was at the Mockingbird and Greenville traffic light in Dallas that was part of the yellow-shortening story. Now they've just shortened the green light down to about 5 seconds.

  • Joe M||

    So glad we managed to vote those things out of existence in Houston. Only four more weeks until they're gone!

  • Old Mexican||

    Well, I instantly knew there was something fishy about these cameras the moment the Houston Chronicle started to favor their installation in Houston.

  • Old Mexican||

    Actually, ANYTHING the Houston Chronicle favors should be taken with a grain of salt.

  • Old Mexican||

    Actually, the Houston Chronicle is even worse than the San Francisco Chronicle, and that's saying much.

  • ||

    ¿Es possible?

  • Young Mexican||

    Si, pendejo!

  • Barely Suppressed Rage||

    It's been my experience that actually stopping at a red light is an excellent way to eliminate accidents.

  • Tim||

    Got any studies that support this?

  • sarcasmic||

    It's been my experience that stopping at a red light is an excellent way to get rear ended and pushed into moving traffic.

  • My Fried Tim||

    stopped at a red light once. Getting car jacked sucks.

  • Fatty Bolger||

    It's been my experience that slamming the brakes on a yellow light due the existence of a camera is an excellent way to create accidents.

  • ||

    The best part about this is that the 101st is deployed right now, so that is an increase in accidents with a population that is 25,000 smaller than normal in the Clarksville area. And most of those people who are gone are younger drivers. There will probably be another jump in a couple of months when the division starts rotating back to the states from Afghanistan, and those people who haven't been driving on American roads start doing so again.

  • Tim||

    There was a great old Star Trek episode where Kirk gets court martialed over a fooked up computer and photo.
    "Cogley: And I repeat, I speak of rights! A machine has none. A man must. My client has the right to face his accuser, and if you do not grant him that right, you have brought us down to the level of the machine! Indeed, you have elevated that machine above us! I ask that my motion be granted. And more than that, gentlemen. In the name of Humanity, fading in the shadow of the machine, I demand it. I demand it! "

    Turns out the real future is a lot more mundane.

  • cynical||

    "So Redflex gets to dictate where the cameras go. Which means that if the cameras really are effective at preventing accidents and red light runners, as the intersections get safer, Redflex's profit margins (and city revenues) get thinner. If I were a Redflex executive, I'd put the cameras at intersections where there's lots of red-light running, but where cameras aren't likely to be very effective at preventing it."

    That requires more explanation, I think. Certainly their profit margins have more to do with the amount of red-light running, not with the amount of accidents. If getting dinged repeatedly doesn't reduce the amount of red-light running, that suggests that the intersection is set up so badly that people constantly have to choose between slamming on their brakes and getting nailed, or getting a ticket. Maybe that's what you meant, but it isn't clear.

  • ||

    We have two of these devices in our town...the county board (who granted approval to the original installation) has told the city (who gets the revenue) that the lights can be used for 3 years...if they have not improved safety at the intersection, then they have to be taken down (as that's the rationale for approving thier original installation). Needless to say, city leaders are up in arms that the police chief is not being taken at his word that it's better than it was.

  • cynical||

    So, would it help things any, in terms of incentives, if the red-light companies were charged a fee for all wrecks that occur in the intersections they manage, in exchange for getting paid a bit more for each ticket?

  • Ted S.||

    Maybe you should have taken the last train to Clarksville, in which case you wouldn't have had to worry about red lights.

  • 0x90||

    Presumably, I'm just to buy the contention that a trend of +/-8 collisions over two consecutive 8766 hour periods holds some sort of substantive meaning. But I have difficulty with that. How did the weather compare between the two years? What different social events took place which might have affected traffic patterns? How about economic conditions? Does that have any effect on overall traffic volume?

    Okay, I'll try to be a little more reasonable: how many total vehicles passed through the intersections in question, in the years being compared? Is that asking for too much?

  • robc||

    Even ignoring possible differences between the two samples, the standard deviation for N random occurences would be sqrt(N), so a little over 8 (sqrt(72)). 2 sigma would be about 19, so 72->64 is well within random damn chance.

  • T||

    I went through this in my subdivision. I started asking for hard numbers about the proposed "traffic safety" improvements, like accident frequency, traffic density, etc, etc.

    I was told that data didn't matter, I wanted children to die, and that I was an irresponsible, dangerous driver who probably shouldn't have a license. Asking for data doesn't help with these people. They just scream louder about safety.

  • ||

    "They just scream louder about safety magick.

    Just trying to help.

  • John-David||

    Same logic that led a bunch of states to ban radar detectors. I'd have thought if the states really cared about safety, they'd set up a bunch of dummy radar guns on highways to just randomly fire, which would slow down everyone who had a detector, and slow down most everyone around them as well.

  • ||

    They do. Most of those electronic construction signs have radar drones attached that blast away. Some cities place them on overpasses. They're only effective the first couple of times you pass a location.

  • SM||

    Yes, this is a stupid idea that should end, now that we see how dumb it is.

    Now...if you people can see that this is just corporations using the government to make a quick buck...this is the reason that nothing the government does should be privatized. You just get more foolishness like this. Same with every other "public-private" initiative...or the government buying from private companies so both can "profit."

  • ||

    Because, apparently, if the cities bought these cameras outright rather than joint venturing, then everything would work just fine. Juuust fine.

  • SM||

    No, as i said, bad policy.

    Based on public-private profit making initiative.

    You see, two bads, same time.

    Take one away, other bad exists.

  • Jeffersonian||

    Take away the bad policy and the corporation is SOL, no? So doesn't the problem exist at the policy, not corporate, level?

  • ||

    I thought the libertarian position was that the government is inefficient because it has no profit incentive.

    Now, we have a situation where a profit incentive is causing this private interest to create problems of its own, and you claim that the government would behave the same way.

    Pick one paradigm and stick with it, OK?

  • waffles||

    but they're not creating anything of value. The profit incentive is in the form of harassment. No net benefit to anyone.

  • JoshINHB||

    ...the libertarian position was that the government is inefficient because it has no profit incentive it's interactions with people are based on force.

    FIFY

  • T||

    Yet trash collection, as an example, should remain a government monopoly. Because telling people they're responsible for their own garbage would never work...

  • ||

    this is just corporations using the government to make a quick buck

    I'm nonplussed; this is actually correct. If a private firm independently set up a camera at an intersection, and sent tickets to everybody they caught running a red light, nobody would pay; they need to partner up with the government, in order to coerce payment at gunpoint.

    All we need to do now is convince you local politicians are no more noble than the average pickpocket.

  • SM||

    You guys and your tax nonsense...crack me up...

    ...again, there are things you will be forced to pay for regardless if you want to or not. I'd rather have a logical discussion ahead of time and minimize these, while also balancing individual rights, which will leave me better off than anarchy.

    Cameras don't pass this test. That simple. Don't take if for more than its worth.

  • Jeffersonian||

    He didn't mention taxes, so why did you?

  • MJ||

    SM mistook P Brooks for the libertarian inside his head.

  • ||

    I'd rather have a logical discussion ahead of time and minimize these, while also balancing individual rights, which will leave me better off than anarchy.

    Run that through the random phrase generator again.

  • ||

    Don't forget Somalia! this time.

  • Jeffersonian||

    Good point...I bet they don't have a single camera in Mogadishu...

  • ||

    I thought we liked privatization.

    By the way, how do the road privatization people here think that private road owners would handle intersection rule enforcement? Or would everyone just choose whether they want to stop or not.

  • omg||

    1. Make the intersection a roundabout or "squareabout"
    2. Remove all signs and signals, and paint markers. Erase the boundary between sidewalks and the street. Remove all speed limits.
    3. Enjoy getting to where you want to go faster while cutting traffic fatalities down to zero.

    A town in Belgium did just that. No intersection rules to enforce, so no intersection rule enforcement is required. People drive slowly because they don't want to destroy their car, but they still get to where they are going faster.

  • ||

    That's not going to work on medium-speed roads (ie, where the speed limit is 40mph or higher), many of which have intersections.

    Really, the traffic light system is Not That Complicated. The people at fault are the bozos who don't stop when they're supposed to, not the goddam cameras.

  • Paul||

    I thought we liked privatization.

    A government contracting the technical details and operations of a government program to a government-chosen monopoly isn't privatization.

  • ||

    You just decimated the Reason Foundation's "privatization awards" or whatever they're called. They gave one to Chicago for selling their parking enforcement authority to Merril Lynch (and now Chicago residents get a ticket on their car every 15 minutes after the meter expires, instead of just once). They also gave one to the Indy Toll Road guy, did they not?

  • ||

    I thought the libertarian position was that the government is inefficient because it has no profit incentive.

    The government is inefficient because it is not dependent on voluntary transactions for its revenue. That's not quite the same thing as profit.

    As we have seen, grafting a profit incentive onto a government agency creates a lawless predator. A nice combination of greed and brute force. Asset forfeiture, anyone?

  • Paul||

    The City of Seattle has consistently reported that crashes have not reduced at red light camera intersections, but that severity of the crashes have... slightly (however they calculated that). I've been trying to get data on a red-light camera at the bottom of my hill that made the intersection markedly more dangerous for vehicles and especially pedestrians. But I can't seem to find any data on that individual camera. A year after placing the red light camera there, they finally erected what they should have put at the intersection in the first place: a left turn signal lane.

    The intersection is much safer now, for both pedestrians and vehicles, and I'll bet all the way up to fifty cent that the revenue from the red light tickets at that intersection has dropped precipitously-- because there's no longer any incentive to 'push the yellow'.

  • ||

    I thought we liked privatization.

    We do.

    Especially when the goals and incentives are plainly laid out, and make sense. The goal, in this case, should be to increase safety and make travel as easy and efficient as possible for all concerned. Not revenue maximization.

  • ||

    Revenue maximization is what private entities do (other than charities -- I don't know if there are any of them interested in operating RLCs).

  • David E. Gallaher/Ruthless||

    Red light cameras take a bad idea--red lights--and make it worse. But that's the difference between society and science. Science is about discarding bad ideas.

  • Al Gore||

    You mean I have it backwards?

  • The Wine Commonsewer||

    Is this where I point out that in Los Angeles the traffic cameras are money losers?

    Not to mention that LA, who is officially boycotting Arizona, carved out an exception for the red light camera company.

    Hypocrisy? Thy name is Villa La Grossa!

  • The Wine Commonsewer||

    Just for the record, Ca is considering banning red light cameras because the statutes say that a cop has to actually see the violation.

  • ||

    Wow, this is a dies mirabilis at H&R. Everyone doesn't like privatization and does like cops watching us.

  • ||

    Cameras don't cause accidents. Drivers not following traffic laws do.

  • ||

    Cameras are great! The economical and they take the arbitrary abuse of police power out of the equation. Here's a case where government is actually doing something more efficient and of course Reason hammers it. If you don't want a ticket - don't break the law. It's that simple. We should expand cameras to the interstates. Why do we need an entire police force dedicated to freeways. All they do is generate revenue by stopping people for speeding. Cameras and local police could easily save taxpayers billions. We should embrace the idea. Unless of course you like breaking the law or dealing with cops.

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