Wednesday, January 07, 2015
[R]ecently, administrators trotted out a seemingly redeeming statistic: that the introduction of the cameras had created a 47 percent reduction in the rate of right angle, or "T-bone," injury crashes.The alderman is right, and one of his colleagues was explicit about it when he proposed an ordinance banning the use of RLC detectors in cars several years ago: "I don't think the goal is to allow the motorist to subvert the system we're spending so much money on....Why waste money on the cameras?"
The Chicago Tribune in response commissioned a scientific study by two well-regarded transportation researchers, who found that the statistics promoted by the mayor's office were misleading. According to the Tribune, the authors of the study found a statistically significant, but still smaller, reduction in angle and turning injury crashes by 15 percent, as well as "a statistically significant increase of 22 percent in rear-end injury collisions." Overall, there was "a non-significant increase of 5 percent in the total number of injury crashes" that happened at intersections with red light cameras when comparing the injury crashes that occurred there before and after the cameras were present.
On a more granular level, the researchers found that there were no safety benefits from cameras that are installed at intersections where there have already been few crashes with injuries, and occasionally, there was evidence that red light cameras actually increased injury crashes at such intersections. "When intersections experiencing fewer than 4 injury crashes per year are considered, there is a significant increase in all crashes by 19 percent after the installation of RLCs," the Tribune study found.
The Tribune noted that the red light camera program has raised more than $500 million off of the $100 tickets since 2002. "That program needs to be stopped. It needs to be frozen to give us time to re-evaluate everything," Chicago Alderman Anthony Beale, 9th, chairman of the council Transportation Committee, told the Tribune. "This is just more proof that this entire program is strictly to generate revenue and always has been." [bold added]
Imagine for a moment a private company running a road network like this. You'd be deafened by cries of "conflict of interest" from the news media, and probably by calls for more government "oversight" of the roads. Well, we already have that and more: outright government ownership. Free-market mechanisms, like competition and consumer choice driven by bad publicity -- and proper government mechanisms like, say, class-action lawsuits -- could more easily correct such an abuse, if not prevent it outright.
Perhaps RLCs do have a legitimate use: They can remind us that the government is neither infallible nor incorruptible, and they can prompt us to consider whether there might be other solutions to our problems than running to the government for everything. (And we haven't even gotten around to discussing the proper role of the government...)