Saturday, May 15, 2010

Austin red-light camera results minimal, overhyped

Whenever you see someone claiming dramatic decreases in accidents due to red light cameras - a result which contradicts the experience of most jurisdictions - it's always worth examining the data closely. In Austin, reports the Statesman:
cameras were phased in at nine intersections — with more than one camera at some — beginning in May 2008. They have brought in more than $100,000 in citations.

Police Lt. Brian Gruetzner , who oversees vehicular homicide and the red-light cameras, says the 30 percent decrease in wrecks " is pretty substantial for anyone."

"We really haven't seen any increases (at those intersections)," Gruetzner said, "and I see it as a very positive thing."

That sounds pretty good, huh? Too bad it's a misrepresentation.

Gruetzner says the city hasn't witnessed any increases in wrecks at red-light camera intersections, but that's false. In three of the nine intersections, according to a chart provided by the Statesman (see below), wrecks at intersections increased the year after they were installed. At the intersection of I-35 and 15th, which I pass through frequently, the number of accidents increased from six to sixteen the year after cameras went in!

So how can Officer Gruetzner say "We really haven't seen any increases (at those intersections)"? It's just not true. The Statesman published the graphs so they had the data. Why let the police spin it that way?

At three other intersections, accidents declined slightly the year after cameras went in but remained higher than they were a couple of years ago. At intersections 5, 6, and 7, wrecks declined the year after cameras were installed, but were still at a higher level than in 2006. That indicates reductions likely result from routine fluctuations, not the initiation of cameras.

In all, at six of the nine intersections accidents increased or are still higher than in the past. That's evidence of failure, not success! If this is really about safety, not revenue, cameras at all six of those intersections should be immediately removed as unnecessary.

What's more, at the intersection with the biggest drop in accidents, it seems questionable to attribute the decline to cameras. Intersection #1 on the list made up most of the 30% decline, going from 15 wrecks in 2007 to 2 wrecks in '08, the year they were installed, and 2 in '09. However, the cameras weren't installed until October '08, so they don't explain the decline in accidents during the first two-thirds of the year.

Which brings us to the point that in all instances we're talking about very small numbers with large margins of error - including at intersections that increased, decreased, or basically stayed the same. It'd be premature to draw any conclusions from this data, but concluding the cameras "worked" is not just premature, it contradicts the intersection-by-intersection details.

What a phony baloney use of data to support what's clearly little more than a money grab!


R. Shackelford said...

It's all about the money. Cameras, tollways, ticket quotas and dui initiatives are just ways to add revenue to city/county/state coffers. More laws every year, which means more arrests, which means more lucrative fines for whatever agency did the arresting. In short, if cameras are making Austin money, they're going to put up one hell of a fight to keep 'em.

Anonymous said...

Decrease in 2010 accidents might be due to there being only two months of accident data. Comparing a full calender year of accidents against two months of data generally results in a decrease of accidents.

Anonymous said...

The article also says: "From the installation of the first camera until Feb. 28 of this year, the system has generated $115,286 in traffic fines." and "Telles said the city pays Redflex $4,870 per camera per month to cover the operation, maintenance and monitoring of the cameras."
Based on some rough math that comes out to 132 months x $4870 =$643,840 (about 557% greater than the cost). This calculation generously does not include the first month's cost or installation costs, if any.

Anonymous said...

This has been through the supreme courts in Louisiana and was found to be a violation of privacy. They made them take them down.

Mark Palmer said...

Thanks for sharing this. Round Rock has decided to pile on the Red Light camera bandwagon. Just saw one of these being installed at an intersection near where I live.

Are the ones in Austin still "in action"? What can be done to stop this waste of our taxes?