Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Opposing red-light cameras

This morning at 8 a.m., I'll be at the Texas House Urban Affairs Committee to testify in support of Rep. Gary Elkins HB 259, which disallows the use of surveillance cameras at Texas intersections for traffic enforcement. See here for earlier Grits coverage of the upcoming hearing. I thought folks might want to see the text of the ACLU of Texas fact sheet I walked around to committee members yesterday, with a few hyperlinks added where I had them to hand.

UPDATE: HB 259 was voted favorably out of committee this afternoon.

Support HB 259 (Elkins) Banning Red Light Cameras
Red light cameras are unfair, they increase injury accidents,
soak the taxpayers, and pave the way for privacy abuses.

Red Light Cameras Increase Injury Accidents
A study released in January of all seven red light camera systems in Virginia found that the number of injury accidents has increased since they were installed.

The New York Times reported last month that "rear-end accidents have shot up at intersections with cameras."

Revenue Generation is Real Motive

Houston officials say they would accept more cash from the Legislature in lieu of red light cameras. The New York Times reported last month: "there has been criticism of the cameras' use to generate revenue from fines … and of revenue sharing arrangements with providers of the technology. Those arrangements, critics contend, have led to the placement of cameras not necessarily where they would promote safety, but where they will rack up the most violations."

Picture Snapped Doesn't Mean Guilt

Red light cameras give the ticket to the wrong person unless the owner of the car is driving. If someone driving a rental car runs a red light, will the rental company pay? If not, why not?

Even if a picture is taken, camera systems may target the wrong people. Houston's EZ-Pass system last year was capturing snapshots of vehicles that failed to pay their tolls, but the Houston Press reported they sometimes sent tickets to the wrong people.

Surveillance Cameras Are Prone To Abuse

Many camera systems zoom in and out and can rotate to view sidewalks or even inside neighboring buildings. Traffic cameras are designed to take high-definition photographs of license plates from a moving vehicle. That means they can photograph inside cars, too, if the operators choose to do so.

In 2003, in response to 9/11, the Texas Legislature made all information about location, specifications and operating procedures from surveillance cameras secret. ACLU believes that bill went too far, since now no one can know what video data the government gathers about them or what is being done with it. It would be unwise to massively expand the scope of government surveillance without fixing that statute to allow greater public accountability. There have been many examples of abuses:

In China, cameras installed ostensibly for traffic enforcement were used to identify and persecute dissidents after the Tiananmen Square uprising.

1 in 10 women were targeted for voyeuristic reasons by male camera operators in a study of London's infamous surveillance camera system.


Ken said...

One time at an intersection I had to run a red light due to a fire truck that was coming from behind. I was in front and it looked like it had to get thru. So I looked both ways and went thru. It turns out that the firetruck turned right instead. The intersection had some type of camera. Not sure of its purpose. But I was nervous. So I can understand the concern over red-light cameras.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Thanks Judson, but I can't find the North Carolina A&T study reference in my posts, and don't recall seeing it. I'd appreciate you pointing me to where I mentioned it.

By contrast, I've not heard of anybody disputing either the Virginia studies, nor the studies cited in the NYT piece referenced above. Those analyses, most clearly in the 7-city VA study, found that while side-impact collisions declined some, rear-end collisions increased even more, resulting in more injury accidents overall.

I'll readily grant, I've not examined the methodologies of any of these studies and can't vouch for them. But neither am I cherrypicking. The findings I've seen reported, at least for independent academic stuff (I've seen some frankly unbelievable claims in consultant's studies funded by the industry), the results seem pretty consistent - the total number of crashes increases, in some cases the number of injury accidents increases, while the argument that more severe crashes are avoided does not play out as dramatically as proponents predict.

As I told the House Urban Affairs committee, bottom line, if the ambulance has to make more trips to red light intersections for injury accidents because of cameras, there's no public policy argument for doing RLCs except revenue.

Anonymous said...

All i have to say is they used to post austin traffic cams for viewing then i had a hard time finding them online. Now they are no longer there. Other texas cities still post them for viewing. And how/why do the local news stations have the feed from them to show us but we can't have it? how are they qualified to see them at their own leisure?