Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Getting wise to red light cameras

Cameras were conceived as labor-saving cures for the epidemic of red-light running. The safety angle seems to have worked out, anyway. In February, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety released a study conducted in 14 cities, all with populations over 200,000, concluding that red light cameras have reduced the rate of fatal crashes caused by red-light runners by 24 percent .

But maybe red light cameras worked too well. City and counties that installed red light cameras at their most dangerous intersections discovered that drivers caught on. Fewer ran red lights. Which meant fewer paid those $158 fines.

Hillsborough County, for example, set cameras at 10 busy intersections a little over 18 months ago. In the first nine months, the county took in $1.3 million from red light runner citations. In the second nine months, the total had fallen to $637,000. A police spokesman told the Tampa Tribune that the county drivers, aware of the cameras, no longer ignored the lights so blatantly. The number of collisions at those same intersections fell. Cops called this a success. Accountants may not have been so pleased.

The cities of Miami and Hollywood both prepared 2011 budgets based on wildly optimistic (if one can use the term “optimistic” in anticipation of mass stupidity) income estimates from red light cameras. Hollywood budgeted $1.8 million from red light citations. Miami figured on $8 million. Neither city counted on drivers wising up. Instead, Hollywood will take in about $500,000 from cameras. Miami, just $3 million.

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