June 02, 2006
It's a go for red light cameras

From yesterday, the Houston City Council has voted to approve the use of red light cameras at certain intersections.

The red-light vote ended more than a year of debate about whether the city should monitor Houston motorists and, if so, who should be hired to develop the system.

The vote clears the way for the contractor, Arizona-based American Traffic Solutions Inc., to begin installing cameras within 45 days, initially at 10 city intersections, after a monthlong public awareness campaign.

The measure had been delayed several times while another contractor vying for the deal raised concerns about the selection process.

Mayor Bill White, who first brought the issue to the council in 2004, said the cameras will protect motorists.

"It's a big day for public safety in Houston," he said. "Unfortunately, we're not short on intersections where there have been lots of intersectional collisions or red-light violations."

Critics have charged that the real intent of the cameras is to raise city revenue through the civil penalties that would be assessed against violators caught on camera.

Those $75 violations wouldn't count against a motorist's driving record, unlike tickets issued by police officers.

I've expressed skepticism about these cameras before, mostly on privacy grounds. Lord knows, I don't want Chief Hurtt getting any bright ideas. But it seems to me that if we're going to go ahead and install these things, the least we can do is to make an effort to determine if they really do reduce accidents and improve safety. Let's design a study, right now before the first camera goes up, to measure baseline accident and injury/mortality rates at the targeted intersections and similar ones that can be used as controls. Compare the data after a year's time and publish the results for all to see. If we do see a decrease in accidents and/or injuries, then at least we have a rational reason for continuing the program. If not, then we can admit our mistake and correct it before it becomes to big and unwieldy to undo. Fair enough?

I know, I know, it'll never happen. Ah, well. It was worth a shot.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on June 02, 2006 to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles | TrackBack

Your proposal makes perfect sense -- assuming it was truly about safety and not about revenue generation "dressed up" as a public safety issue.

The problem is, if this becomes a cash cow for the city, even if there is no improvement in safety -- heck, maybe even if accident rates *increase* -- they're only going to put up more of them.

Posted by: Tim on June 2, 2006 10:12 AM