Friday, January 02, 2009

Houston accidents increased after installing red light cameras

There are two kinds of stories routinely published by the MSM around the New Year that both annoy me: Fluffy pieces written weeks earlier for publication while the reporter is gone, and stories that officialdom wants buried and thus releases around the slowest newsday of the year.

An excellent example of the latter may be found in a Houston Chronicle story published yesterday revealing that traffic accidents in Houston increased after the installation of red light cameras ("Was red light camera study flawed?," Jan 1).

While not long ago, the Chronicle touted the results of a much less rigorous study uncritically, in this case, where the results do not support red light cameras, the whole story was centered around claiming the research methodology was flawed. Writes Bradley Olson:

Because red-light cameras are known to have a spillover effect — meaning that they have been shown to impact the number of accidents at intersections where there are no cameras — robust examinations of camera programs always compare crash data with that in other cities.

It's what statisticians call a control group. Unless the study authors compare crashes at the 50 intersections where red-light cameras have been installed with other intersections in which they have not been — preferably in other cities — no conclusions can be drawn from it.

This is utter gobbledy gook, not a legitimate statistical analysis! Red light cameras create their OWN control group when researchers monitor accidents at the intersection BEFORE and AFTER enforcement begins.

That was the flaw I identified in the Texas Department of Transportation study published in December - in the vast majority of intersections they studied, data was not gathered before cameras were installed to compare them. In the Houston study, they had that data going back several years, so IMO the results are actually much more robust and probative than TXDOT's.

Olson writes that, "One specialist from a renowned traffic research organization who reviewed the study for the Houston Chronicle said the methodology was "flawed" and has serious "limitations." But it turns out the "renowned" research group was the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which is an arm of the insurance industry, not a neutral source of research.

The reporter also claims, bizarrely, that, "At a ratio of 10 to 1, study after study on the effect of red-light cameras ... have found that they drastically reduce crashes." That's simply false on its face, which further leads me to think Olson's sources were feeding him a line of bull. As I wrote in reaction to the TXDOT study:
in Lubbock red light cameras were discontinued after accidents overall increased 52% at intersections with cameras. Similarly, the state of Virginia eliminated their use after studies in every city using the devices found the number of accidents increased. In other jurisdictions, studies have found reductions in right-angle accidents but nearly equal increases in rear-end collisions, including in injury accidents.
The Houston figures jibe closely with those results, so I don't see why Olson or Mayor White are so surprised that accidents increased in Houston, too. That's what happens when officials prioritize revenue generation over public safety.

Here are the bottom line results:

See more from BlogHouston and Off the Kuff.


FleaStiff said...

The only relevant issue regarding Red Light Cameras is the REVENUE generated by them. Their purpose is to generate revenue from speeding fines.
I don't think the manufacturer cares how much revenue they may generate for ambulance chasing lawyers or how much in revenue-loss they generate by causing traffic jams or injuries.

Anonymous said...

We are rapidly approaching a point where fees and fines will be assessed when we leave our homes!

Houston's traffic problems and the related accidents are the result of a crumbling infrastructure, not people running red lights! Perhaps funds will be made available by the Federal Governmentin in 2009 to address some of the real problems.

Of course Texas and Houston may reject this funding if it will reduce revenue from fees and fines. Texas has a history of rejecting Federal funds because they might have strings attached requiring real safety issues to be addresses.

Anonymous said...

State Representative Carl Isett from Lubbock has made it his crusade to outlaw these cameras, based on it being an invasion of privacy, removes your right to face your accuser, and loss of due process. He will be reintroducing a bill that has been defeated before. Maybe he'll get in passed this time

Anonymous said...

I just recieved a citation from a RLC in Houston. I was there on business, I was driving a rental car, it was late, pouring down rain and I was lost. On top of that, several streets in the area were blocked off due to the opening night party for the Latin Grammy awards.
I was clocked at going a speedy 18 mph and you could see my brake lights about halfway through the intersection.
This is a $75 ticket and it came with no information on any options but to pay it.
I'll not be driving through Houston anymore!

Anonymous said...

I am not for these cameras and do not have any stake in them. With that said...Don't you think that installing cameras would inevitably have an initial increase in accidents? I mean, whenever you have drivers make drastic changes in driving habits/traffic patterns you would expect increases in collisions. Wouldn't you? I wonder if they can break it down by months. Were the total accidents increasing, consistent, or decreasing over time since the cameras were installed? I think a more thorough analysis would be in order. This is yet another example of government knee jerk reaction.

Anonymous said...

Information (stats) was available to the public PRIOR to these cameras being installed in Houston, Lufkin and other Texas cities. The cameras locations showed an elevation of the number of accidents.

When the above info was presented to a supporter of the cameras his statement was; "But the accidents were less severe."!!!!!!!!!!

It is all about revenue; traffic/public safety obviously is NOT a priority when it comes to income for the local jurisdiction.

Retired 2004

Anonymous said...

I don't think the manufacturer cares how much revenue they may generate for ambulance chasing lawyers or how much in revenue-loss they generate by causing traffic jams or injuries.

Auto Accident Attorney Houston