Traffic Light Cameras – Results a Mixed Bag?


City of West Palm puts in traffic light cameras to find that the number of crashes of decreased as expected – and hoped. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the number of rear-end crashes increased. That makes sense considering that people will naturally react to traffic lights by slamming on the breaks, thereby causing the car behind to crash into them as an unintended consequence. It’s only been about 9 months since city installed the cameras, so maybe there is some sort of “learning curve” effect that will occur before the rear-end crashes begin to subside. Maybe. Either way, why are folks tail-gating like that to begin with?

The fact that its having a ‘net’ positive effect of fewer crashes is a good thing, obviously. However, it does sort of act as a reminder that unintended consequences of changes — even when they are is well intentioned — can happen. One might argue that this serves as a parallel to implementing a change in the workplace to make a work process safer only to create a new hazard that needs to be corrected. Something that safety and health professionals, employers, and workers ought to keep in mind!

Not far from my house is a speed camera, but it’s not at a traffic light so it captures speeders in moving traffic where a sudden stop is unlikely. Presumably, this camera does not have that same phenomenon of rear-end or any other type of crash but still has the effect of “encouraging” drivers to keep within the speed limit.

Considering that each state has different auto/insurance laws (no-fault, etc), I wonder how the insurance carriers view this issue….

As a side note, who knew those cameras were so expensive: $4,750 per month! The revenue from tickets issue generates the cash flow, so the theory goes, to pay for the equipment and make a little “profit” for the local government.

This begs an interesting question, then. If these cameras are – on a net basis – successful in reducing accidents, then will the locals take them out if they become a net cost? Will they err on public safety or their budgets? A paradoxical question for the locals, I suppose.

*** Article from Sun-Sentinel.com ***

Nine months after West Palm Beach issued the first red-light camera fines in Palm Beach County, injuries have increased fivefold at the city’s four camera intersections compared with the same period last year, records show.

West Palm Beach, which began doling out fines in February, reported clearing $10,000 per month on camera fines after paying a vendor, but safety results offer a mixed picture. The number of crashes declined, but injuries recorded in accident reports are up: five under cameras compared with one before.

The statistics amount to just one snapshot in a limited time frame, but the safety debate matters now because the future of the cameras is under review across the county.

Royal Palm Beach and Haverhilldropped cameras after a new state law effective July 1 made the program less financially attractive to municipalities. Juno Beach is delaying cameras until next year. Palm Beach County is readying its first camera near Boca Raton. Boynton Beach plans to make its first camera operational in February.

Palm Springs can walk away from a contract with a camera vendor that ends in February. Accidents are down significantly at three intersections in the early going there, with injuries running even compared with the same period last year. The village became the county’s second municipality to start fines Aug 13.

West Palm Beach Mayor Lois Frankel, who once got a ticket for rolling right on red — which is now less rigidly enforced — said she is willing to support cameras if they can be shown to enhance safety. At the same time, she expressed concern that the cameras can create the impression of “gotcha” government.

“I do not believe it should be a cash cow for the city,” Frankel said. “I personally don’t like the cameras.”

Police Chief Delsa Bush, however, said she would not recommend removing the cameras: “I do not believe that they have been in use long enough to comprehensively evaluate the effect that they have on red-light running in specific, and overall public safety in general.”

Bush noted that the cameras show indications of playing a helpful role in tracking suspects in crimes and said the city is exploring enhancing them with license plate readers that capture all plate numbers automatically.

In West Palm Beach, overall accidents at the camera intersections decreased to 26 compared with 38 a year earlier, and damage cited in police reports fell below $96,000 from more than $113,000. But rear-end collisions climbed almost 30 percent to 17 from 13, and recorded injuries rose.

Reports cited various head, neck, chest and other injuries for which drivers or passengers sought treatment. No injury was fatal in either period.

Rear-end collisions sometimes have increased under cameras in other states such as Virginia as drivers may be more likely to stop abruptly, though no police reports in West Palm Beach said drivers blamed red-light cameras for accidents.

Camera fines began Feb. 21 at Banyan Boulevard and Australian Avenue, Belvedere Road and Parker Avenue, and Parker and Summit Boulevard. Fines began June 15 at a fourth intersection, Australian and 25th Street.

The statistics are compiled from the county’s accident database, supplemented by West Palm Beach accident reports that were not in the county database but fall within the appropriate dates.

Only accidents that occurred within 300 feet of the intersections were considered. The county compiles its database from reports municipalities voluntarily provide, though sometimes there can be delays in the flow of information, said Dan Weisberg, director of the county’s traffic division.

In neighboring Palm Springs, crashes fell to 32 from 55 in the first three months of cameras fines, compared with the same period a year earlier. Both periods included three injuries, none fatal.

Damage cited in Palm Springs police reports dropped almost in half to about $100,000.

Palm Springs police Capt. Mark Hall said cameras supplemented educational campaigns against aggressive and drunken driving and promoting seat belts. The cameras are located at Congress Avenue intersections with Forest Hill Boulevard, 10th Avenue North and Lake Worth Road.

Like West Palm Beach, Palm Springs pays camera vendor American Traffic Solutions $4,750 per camera per month, totalling $19,000 per month for four cameras, including two at one intersection. The village reported a net $3,000 loss on the program as of the end of its Sept. 30 fiscal year. A $3,000 gain recorded since then means the town is even, but the figures do not include the cost of paying officers to review footage. Neither city offered a precise figure for manpower costs. In Palm Springs, the hours are built into the schedules of several officers.

In contrast to Royal Palm Beach and Haverhill, Palm Springs officials said they consider it money well spent if safety gains hold up.

“Our intent was to stop crashes and stop people from running red lights,” Palm Springs Mayor Mike Davis said. “If the statistics bear out they’re reducing crashes, then I really don’t mind if we have to pay a few dollars for a law enforcement official to look at the footage.”

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