Good news for Lynnwood cameras after some new math

Lynnwood’s traffic enforcement-camera program got some positive press this week, and that may be justified — once the picture is adjusted for reality.

A new study by American Traffic Solutions, Inc., suggests that Lynnwood and other Washington cities are seeing a big impact on school-zone speeding by using cameras to issue tickets to scofflaws.

Stories at EdmondsPatch and Lynnwood Today quoted the study’s findings that speeding tickets dropped by more than 75 percent in Lynnwood school zones where the cameras have been installed. The data compared the last two school years.

The numbers reported for Lynnwood raised questions for us, in part because the reported declines were much bigger than what was said to be happening in other Washington cities. Moreover, our digging into Lynnwood’s camera program this year already had turned up a police department memo from June 2010, predicting there would be a 75 percent decline in school-zone speeding tickets in 2011.

The drop was anticipated because of the city council’s spring 2010 decision to reduce the hours school zone cameras would be used. Instead of continuing to operate the speed cameras all day when classes are in session, Lynnwood’s council opted to limit the hours of use only to times when students likely are at greatest risk, specifically the hours bracketing the begin and end of the school day.

We provided ATS spokesman Charles Territo a copy of the Lynnwood police memo as well as camera ticket data we earlier received from the city, all information the city gave up under public records laws.

Did the ATS camera study take into account how the change in hours reduced the number of Lynnwood school-zone speeding tickets? If so, how could ATS be certain that fewer tickets were being written because people were modifying their driving habits — the study’s key point?

To their credit, the people at ATS took our inquiry seriously. Their number crunchers went back to the data.

When they adjusted the findings to reflect for differences in how the city is using the cameras, the declines were far less dramatic, ATS acknowledged.

School-zone speeding tickets were down 44 percent outside Meadowdale High School (not 77 percent as the report suggested) and down 35 percent at Lynnwood Elementary (not the reported 86 percent), the camera company now says. (See attached spreadsheet from ATS to follow the math).

Still, those are solid results that demonstrate the program is having an effect, Territo said in an email.

“As to your question about how do we know the cameras are causing a change in behavior, I would only say, you could also argue that the earth is flat but that would be ignoring the obvious. School zone safety cameras are used to change dangerous driver behavior and protect children. In Lynnwood, that’s exactly what they are doing.”

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