December 3, 2008
Red-light cameras have sprouted quickly across Texas in recent years, sparking heated debates about whether they reduce crashes or simply bring easy revenue for the cities that install them.
New data from Texas A&M University’s Texas Transportation Institute could help settle the argument.
A statewide study by institute researchers shows that monitored intersections had an overall 30 percent decrease in collisions.
The state-mandated report, released Tuesday by the Texas Department of Transportation, examined data from 56 intersections across the state, including many in Houston, from July 1, 2007, to June 30.
The data and analysis are limited because some cities’ cameras went online during the study period and their post-installation data were not complete. But the report states that the cameras could be changing driver behavior.
“While these results cannot conclusively determine that red light cameras are responsible for the overall reduction in crashes … the presence of the treatment provided some effect on the frequency of crashes at the selected intersections for the limited time period of this analysis,” the report states.
The study examined crashes at select intersections from 12 cities that were required to report accidents under a new state law. The data show that right-angle collisions were reduced by 43 percent, while rear-end collisions increased by 5 percent, mirroring the results of other studies across the nation.
The report details a methodology complicated by timing. Some cities did not install cameras until recently, so they reported limited post-installation data. Others, based on exemptions in the law, were not required to report all their pre-installation data.
To compensate, institute researcher Troy Walden “annualized” some cities’ crash rates.
Lawmakers who helped pass the law requiring the study said it confirms, at least preliminarily, what experts predicted during the 2007 legislative session.
They said they were told that broadside wrecks, which experts say are responsible for more deaths and injuries, would decline. They also heard that rear-end collisions, presumably from motorists jamming their brakes at intersections to avoid citations, would increase.
“The results are what you expected,” said state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, who was vice chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee that weighed a 2007 legislation regulating cameras.
State Rep. Larry Phillips, R-Sherman, said he would like to see more jurisdictions included in future reports, which now are required annually.
But he said the data appear to give ammunition to proponents, who argue that cameras allow cities a cheap method to increase intersection safety, freeing up officers for other enforcement.
“Hopefully, we will see that the red-light cameras enforcement has proven to be successful in reducing collisions and making the intersections safer,” said Phillips, vice chair of the House Transportation Committee.
The city of Houston has made millions from $75 fines from more than 387,000 citations since September 2006, according to police statistics.
The city has paid $5.3 million to an Arizona-based vendor, American Traffic Solutions, leaving about $13.5 million.
At least $5.1 million of that goes to a state fund for cash-strapped regional trauma centers, under the law sponsored by state Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee.
Most of the city’s net profit of $8.4 million must be spent on traffic safety.
Mayor Bill White said the city, which has a $2 billion general fund operating budget, is not motivated by the revenue.
“Citizens want us to make the streets safer. Too many people have had friends and loved ones who have been seriously injured or killed by someone running a red light. We are trying to discourage that in a cost-effective way,” he said in a recent interview on the topic.