The American Insurance Institute opposes Florida cities' auto rate discount for Red Light Cameras
By Craig Masters
Greeley’s state senator, Republican Scott Renfroe, stepped up to the task of opposing the big money stream to city governments and proposed Colorado ban red light cameras. But, his efforts to get the bill out of committee failed Tuesday when every democrat on the committee held fast onto the money and voted against Senate bill 50.
Renfroe presented data from an audit conducted for Denver by city auditor Dennis Gallagher, which concludes that the camera programs undermine public trust in law enforcement. Gallagher said, “These programs were sold as public-safety enhancements but are widely viewed as a cash grab. It undermines public trust to maintain photo enforcement programs that are profitable but whose safety impact has not been conclusively shown.”
Supporting evidence for these machines typically originates from one of two sources, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and a collection of films of terrible accidents accompanied by the manufacturers’ claims that their red light cameras prevent such accidents and are, therefore, saving lives and injuries.
Mark Radtke, a lobbyist for the Colorado Municipal League, demonstrated his skills as a salesman by introducing a debating ploy known as a red herring to the committee. “Nobody would be issued a ticket if they didn’t run the red light or if they didn’t speed,” Radtke said. “You would see these cameras everywhere if we were just trying to generate revenue with them.”
How embarrassing for Mr. Radtke to have his comment make the Denver Post where it was read by hundreds of intelligent citizens who have been ticketed for non-moving violations such as stopping within the cross-walk or proceeding to make a right turn on red – a legal maneuver.
Jody Sansing, speaking for the Cherry Hills Village Police Department,made the claim that red light cameras had reduced overall traffic accidents by 70 percent at an intersection in his city, and injury accidents are down 88 percent.
Sansing testified before the committee, “Our system has produced some pretty astounding results.” Astounding indeed, those results would be absolutely phenomenal, according to the data collected nationwide for more than two decades. Including data from eleven states where the cameras are now banned.
For example, in a major analysis of data collected over the six-year period between 1998 and 2004, the Washington Post published data collected from Washington, D.C.’s 45 intersections with red-light cameras. The data proved the number of crashes at locations with cameras more than doubled. Injury and fatal crashes climbed 81 percent, and broadside wrecks — considered among the most dangerous — increased 30 percent. Higher increases than in intersections in all categories without cameras in the same jurisdictions.
Washington is not the only major city to find those results. IIHS’s claim of safety from cameras is flatly contradicted by a number of cities that have tried them. “At some intersections [with cameras] we saw no change at all, and at several intersections we actually saw an increase in traffic accidents,” admitted San Diego police chief David Bejarano on ABC News’s Nightline in a July 30, episode.
The National Motorist Association reported that Charlotte, North Carolina’s television station WBTV reported, “Three years, 125,000 tickets, and $6 million in fines later, the number of accidents at intersections in Charlotte has gone down less than one percent. And the number of rear-end accidents, which are much more common, has gone up 15 percent.”
That data is not anecdotal. Those cities used clear and real evidence red light camera manufacturers are using manipulated data to claim the cameras reduce injuries and accidents.
As for the supporting arguments from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, it is only necessary to read the institute’s own report focusing on traffic-tickets-by-mail schemes in which the report notes, “Most studies also reported increases in rear-end crashes.” The report then says, “This isn’t surprising. The more people stop on red, the more rear-end collisions there will be.”
The question, then, is why is the IIHS continuing to support red light cameras in spite of overwhelming evidence they account for more accidents, not fewer. The answer is found in several recent cases in Florida cities which have passed city ordinances requiring reduced insurance rates for motorists who live within the city where red light cameras are used. The arguments in support of the ordinances were based on the claims by the camera manufacturers and the IIHS that the cameras improve safety. Logical, if those claims were true, a safer city should have reduced auto insurance rates.
IIHS is an insurance-industry funded lobbying agency. The increase in accidents at red light interchanges results in increased insurance rates – not reduced rates. The proof became crystal clear when almost immediately the insurance companies responded to the city ordinances with data that discredited the IIHS method of selectively including or omitting intersections nearby to red light installations in what is called “regression to the mean” and “spillover effects.”
Regression to the mean is real, it simply says the crashes should be averaged over several years. IIHS considers regression important for stop lights, but simply ignores the method for speed limits.
The spillover effect is far more interesting to those with advanced math skills. It is a complicated mathematical maneuver, a number trick, for crediting the cameras for reducing fatalities at intersections where there were no cameras. The idea is to convince the camera buyers and local police departments that red-light cameras at a few intersections will cause drivers to stop promptly all over town, or all over the county, or maybe all over the state, so improvements outside the cameras’ ZIP codes are credited to them nonetheless. “As statistical acrobatics go, this one is breathtaking, ” reports the National Motorist Association.
But in the end, as embarrassing as it might be for the democrats on the senate committee, the facts are overwhelming that the cameras are simply a revenue stream from citizens too uninformed, too scared, or too busy to learn to disregard the tickets. After all, those tickets have been declared unconstitutional for several reasons by judges from coast to coast and border to border. Once the public understands the truth about these machines and the money stream dries up, the cameras will be shut off.
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