One of the foremost advocates of traffic safety
has withdrawn support for the District's traffic camera enforcement program
after city officials conceded revenue was a primary motivation.
The AAA, which supports the use of traffic cameras
to enhance road safety, has rebuffed the city's plan to expand the program
to earn more revenue.
The Metropolitan Police Department collected $18,368,436
in fines through August 2002 with the automated red-light enforcement program,
which was implemented in August 1999 to combat "the serious problem
of red-light running."
"There is a mixed message being sent here.
When using these cameras you should not have a vested interest in catching
one person running a red light or speeding," said Lon Anderson, spokesman
for AAA Mid-Atlantic.
Mr. Anderson said that AAA brought attention to
a camera that the automobile association deemed unfair on H Street Northeast
adjacent to the Union Station garage exit. The camera was affixed at a
location on a declining hill with a flashing yellow light that went to
red without changing to a solid yellow.
"Drivers didn't even know they were running
a light. That camera issued 20,000 tickets before we caught it," Mr.
He said the camera also caused its share of rear-end
collisions, as opponents have contended since the first few months after
the program began.
"At the H Street camera, we noticed several
near rear-end collisions" Mr. Anderson said. "There have been
studies that show that red-light cameras can cause an increase of rear-end
accidents, but there aren't any hard numbers yet."
He said he became furious when he read reports
in The Washington Times a week ago quoting D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams
as saying that the cameras were about "money and safety." The
mayor is also reported to have said that the city was looking to expand
the program, in part, to earn revenue to offset a projected $323 million
Mr. Anderson said the mayor's comments made it
appear as if the city had a dual policy on cameras and that they undercut
the credibility of Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey's automated red-light
"That is what happens when you're putting
[on] pressure for numbers," he said.
Until recently, both Mr. Williams and Chief Ramsey
have said that the No. 1 goal of the cameras is to make the streets safer
for motorists, pedestrians, and cyclists by targeting red-light violations
and speed infractions.
The city also may be heading for a court fight, said Richard Diamond, spokesman
for House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican, a strong opponent
of the cameras.
A number of cases against the cameras have been
filed in D.C. Superior Court, but "when the courts get a hint that
the case is trying to attack the system it is immediately dismissed,"
the spokesman said.
A recent report by the Insurance Institute for
Highway Safety showed that red-light running in the District had dropped
64 percent since the cameras were set up.
But Mr. Diamond and Mr. Anderson said that the
report says nothing about the increased number of rear-end collisions that
may have been caused by the cameras.
Richard Retting, the insurance institute's senior
transportation engineer, said such collision increases were not studied
for the report but may be included in studies later.
Mr. Anderson and Mr. Diamond said that drivers
approaching red-light cameras are so afraid of being flashed that they
slam on their brakes well short of intersections, surprising tailing motorists
and causing accidents.
Mr. Diamond cited the camera problems last year
in San Diego.
A judge threw out almost 292 traffic tickets issued
by automated red-light cameras last year, ruling that the city had given
away too much police power to the private company running the devices.
"The only reason we found out about the accident
increases in San Diego is because the courts forced them to release all
of the data," he said.
It also was discovered that the city's vendor,
Lockheed Martin IMS, placed some of the cameras too close to the intersection
and reduced the yellow-light time.
San Diego Police Chief David Bejarano later said
that more accidents were reported at some camera intersections than prior
to the red-light photo enforcement. And at some intersections there was
no change in accident totals.
All of the information on the cameras' lack of
effectiveness came after the courts forced the police department to release
all the data.
"This is the only case where we have the full
data and the cameras didn't work," Mr. Diamond said.
The Los Angeles Times reported last November that accidents also were up
at red-light camera intersections in that city. It was also reported that
accidents were up as much as 11 percent citywide.
- From John Albrecht
- This article mentioned barely in passing a very scary
situation: traffic "red-light" camera vendors apparently changing
traffic light timing and programming.
- There are safety, liability, and cost issues involved.
- The article didn't indicate this was done with the approval
of the traffic engineers responsible for motorist and pedestrian safety,
but given the environment, I expect it was a unilateral action. Worse,
the engineers may not even have been advised of the change.
- Traffic light computers are programmed based on studies
by professional traffic engineers for safety and traffic flow management.
- To allow a vendor to arbitrarily change the programming
of any of the lights will likely disrupt traffic flow, can affect all the
lights, and put peoples' lives and property at risk.
- It can also invalidate any and all safety related computations
the engineers made and cost taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars to fix,
and exposes municipalities to millions of dollars in lawsuit liability.
- It may also invalidate any sort of service contract the
municipality may have with the legitimate programmers of the system, further
increasing the costs to the taxpayer.
- In addition, the typical driver is conditioned to accelerate
upon learning a yellow light has been shortened. To shorten the duration
of a yellow light knowing this fact, may have legal consequences that
cannot be discussed here....but it will invariabily have tragic consequences.
- John Albrecht
- Phoenix, AZ