Friday, May 13, 2011

Traffic accidents declined at Houston intersections with red-light cameras after ticketing ceased

After Houston voters rejected red-light cameras in a city-wide plebiscite, the camera operator predictably claimed that red-light violations increased at the intersections where cameras remained but ticketing ceased. So it's ironic, to say the least, to learn that auto accidents at those same intersections went down 16 percent overall in the months since voters shot them down. Makes you wonder about the statistics from the camera operator, huh?

Among the explanations given was that "unusually dry weather during recent months has made driving conditions safer." That's possibly true, but what does it tell us? That the weather is a much bigger factor in accidents than red-light cameras to the point that its effects swamp those of government enforcement efforts to ticket red-light runners.

The main reason people don't run red lights isn't fear of a ticket, it's self preservation and respect for the norms of the road. Sometimes when it rains, roads are slicker and more people might unintentionally skid through an intersection, but red-light cameras won't stop that; they only prevent intentional red-light running by drivers who see the camera and make a conscious decision not to run the light. If road conditions are the key factor, in other words, red-light cameras were a waste of time to begin with. Or, if it's true the cameras were the main factor influencing driver behavior, according to this data they were doing more harm than good, likely increasing the number of rear-end accidents as has been the case in numerous other cities.

In all, this is a telling outcome, and a satisfying coda to Houston's much-ballyhooed red-light camera debate.

H/T: Off the Kuff

MORE (5/14): In a followup story, the Chron reports that accidents in Houston citywide have declined 13% over the same period. The reasons offered are the weather and the economy. Fewer people with jobs means fewer people driving to work, poor people have less money for gas, etc.. Either way, it's clear there are factors affecting driver behavior much more than strict enforcement of traffic laws.


Anonymous said...

What difference does it make if people are scared of getting a ticket, or perishing in a fiery car crash?

I believe that some are worried about a ticket, and some about their own safety, and then there are some that don't care about anything.....

Anonymous said...

NAAAAWWW, couldn't be the weather. Besides it has to be the cameras... Lets continue pouring more money into something that has no direct link to causation. Better yet let's see if we can mandate every city to put cameras at every intersection.

Wait, I've got it, the cameras made the weather conditions better which in turn resulted in less accidents. Either way its because of the cameras.

I would bet the study on this one comes directly or indirectly from vendors who sell or set up the equipment? Naaaawww

BHorton2 said...

It seems to me that discussions about whether weather, red lights, gas prices or cameras impact the behavior of drivers is not much grounded in day in, day out reality. The simple fact, in my experience helping to enforce "little laws" is that most infractions are tied to more to inattention and preoccupation with other things, and less with willful disobedience. Let's move past speculation and dwell on consideration of what it might take to help drivers maintain a useful level of awareness of their speeding and upcoming intersections. Do I think that will impact the "I'm running late and gotta take this risk speeder"? Probably not, look left and right before crossing the next street, and the next street, and...

Rorschach said...

Even taking into account the accident reduction city wide (13%) it is still clear that the accidents at the RLC intersections declined 3% more than the average which is still statistically significant.