December 14, 2004
More on the Red Light Blues

Insurance companies are complaining about the proposed traffic cameras in Houston because they won't get to know who the actual red light runners are.

"We're questioning the wisdom here," said Mark Hannah, spokesman for the Austin-based Insurance Council of Texas, a nonprofit group that represents the state's insurance industry.

"If a person runs six traffic lights in Houston, and all he is doing is paying fines, wouldn't people be better off if the insurance companies knew about this guy and his insurance rates reflected his driving?" Hannah said. "It's just a matter of time before someone gets killed."

Sophie Harbert, spokeswoman for State Farm Insurance in Texas, said Houston's proposed ordinance could increase auto insurance rates in the area.

"Obviously people who repeatedly run red lights would pose a higher risk," Harbert said. "If there's no way for us to know that's going on, then it could potentially increase costs for everyone."

Well, just give those cameras better resolution and throw in some publicly available biometric data, and I suspect the insurers will go away fat and happy. In case you're wondering, I'm confident in my opposition to this plan now.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on December 14, 2004 to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles | TrackBack

If anyone can trust the insurance business in Texas more than they do Mayor White, then I know a guy with some great Kool-Aid for ya.

Living in Houston, no one can deny we have a red-light-running epidemic. If insurance companies know this already, how will putting cameras on traffic signals INCREASE my rates? Saying that we have increased risk by identifying and fining people is crazy. That's like saying since I know the odds of winning the lottery I'm more likely to hit the jackpot. If people know there are cameras, then I bet they slow down. Since the lottery amounts to a voluntary tax, I choose not to play.

That sure makes better sense than saying all these people running red lights will raise rates because the insurance company says so!

"No one has the right to run a red light," the Red Dog stands behind the Mayor on that one.

Hope your families agree, I know mine does.

Posted by: Red Dog on December 14, 2004 2:37 PM

My concern here is that the insurance industry will "offer" to BUY the equipment for the city in exchange for being able to get at the information that comes from it. A lot of cities are looking for creative ways to "finance" their needs, and if such a proposal were to surface, hopefully the city would find it an offer they can refuse.

Sophie Harbert, spokeswoman for State Farm Insurance in Texas, said Houston's proposed ordinance could increase auto insurance rates in the area.

I don't follow this logic at all. How can adding cameras, but not sharing the data with insurers, possibly make rates rise above and beyond the status quo? This is a scare tactic, methinks.

And frankly, the insurance lobby already wields more than enough clout in government.

I will say this -- as long as this red-light camera plan does not attempt to determine who was behind the wheel, I will oppose it. And if insurers could jack up MY rates because someone else drove my car through a red, then I am *vehemently* opposed. Not that anyone else generally drives my car, but it's the principle here.

Posted by: Tim on December 14, 2004 3:27 PM

I don't completely understand. Even if they're civil penalties, insurance companies could still find out about the red light tickets, just like parking tickets are public records. Maybe some language in the specific Houston ordinance forbids them from using the data? Very odd.

Thanks for the links, BTW.

Posted by: Scott on December 14, 2004 5:05 PM

I moved here recently from somewhere with red light cameras (the DC area). And let me tell you, when I got here I was amazed how often people stop at red lights here - you think Houston's got an epidemic of red light running, try northern Virginia.

And guess what - red light running dropped off after they started using them. LIke here, the driver gets the fine and it's a civil fine, apparently because you can't file criminal charges with no witness (so that requires an officer stop).

This strikes me as far less invasive of my privacy than, say, the way airline data gets pored over. And red right running is about the most dangerous violation there is. I may be sensitive to this because I ws nearly killed by someone doing it (had the impact happened about a quarter-second earlier, I wouldn't be here).

You are responsible for your car. If you loan your car out, don't loan it out to people who run red lights. If you get the citation in the mail, go back to the person who ran the light. let's face it - most of time, we are driving our own cars.

As for the insurance rates - bring it on. The cost of damages in the Houston area is going to be paid by all of us. I stop at red lights, I stop for pedestrians, I have not gotten any traffic ticket of any kind since 1987, and it's not dumb luck. Let the morons who run reds and threaten the rest of us pay the fines and the higher rates.

Posted by: John on December 14, 2004 5:39 PM

Amen to John.

I still don't understand how rates go up with this plan? I'm think the insurance companies see something new and simply state, "this will cause rates to increase."

The Astros make a post-season run: "this will cause rates to increase"

Peterson gets the death penalty: "this will cause rates to increase"

The QB from Southern Cal gets the Heisman: "this will cause rates to increase"

Cameras will be mounted on traffic signals and ticket folks in the intersection during red lights: "this will cause rates to increase"

Will anything short of the second coming make rates go down?

Posted by: Red Dog on December 15, 2004 11:06 AM