Red-light cameras: Safety claims unproven, but proven revenue

  • Tue Jun 29th, 2010 7:57pm

Winston Churchill famously said, “However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.” Such is the case with red-light cameras (“Red-light cameras are for safety, police say,” June 23).

While no one would argue that running red lights or speeding in school zones should be encouraged, claims of improved public safety remain unsupported by data. In the words of Lynnwood police Sgt. Wayne Davis, “It’s not about making money; it’s about keeping everyone safe.” City Councilman Mark Smith is on record acknowledging that while “it’s not intended to soak some poor guy who’s just trying to get to work,” none on the council “had any idea that it would produce this much revenue.” If that is the case, the evidence suggests that the result is not what the strategy intended.

Despite claims of enhanced public safety, year-over-year increases in revenue suggest that more violators are being tagged, which is inconsistent with claims of a change in driving behavior. Councilman Jim Smith has noted that the council “never received specific accident data demonstrating why speed-zone cameras were necessary.” According to Chief Steve Jensen, “Police have bits and pieces of accident data but not enough to draw any specific conclusions.”

Studies from some cities have found that accident rates were actually diminished by removing traffic lights altogether, so the red-light camera strategy remains a highly speculative proposition. Despite blandishments about public safety, after several years we have still seen no specific and compelling data correlating fewer accidents to red-light cameras at intersections where they have been installed. So this strategy, however beautiful, is about revenue, revenue and revenue.

Richard Baxter