Red-light running crashes down since cameras installed, data shows

American Traffic Solutions field technician Israel Rodriguez installs new red-light cameras aimed at the intersection of Airport-Pulling and Pine Ridge Roads on Thursday, Feb. 11, 2010, in Naples.

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American Traffic Solutions field technician Israel Rodriguez installs new red-light cameras aimed at the intersection of Airport-Pulling and Pine Ridge Roads on Thursday, Feb. 11, 2010, in Naples.

2006 — 139

2007 — 133

2008 — 103

2009 — 77

2010 — 101

2011 — 90

2012 — 44*

*first six months

Source: Collier County Sheriff’s Office

2009 - 18,991*

2010 - 20,392**

2011 - 9.926

2012 - 2,486***

*The number of cameras increased until April 2010, when they were installed at the 10 current intersections.

**In June 2010, Collier commissioners eliminated right-on-red citations.

***through October 2012

Source: Collier County Sheriff’s Office

Those given a camera-generated citation receive a $158 fine.

Collier County receives $75 of all paid citations, with the remainder going to the state for various programs. The vendor, American Traffic Solutions, receives $28,500 a month for administering the program.

If the notice of violation is not paid within 30 days, it is changed to a uniform traffic citation administered by the courts, with the county receiving no money.

Source: Collier County Transportation Operations Department

A decision last week by Collier County commissioners to remove the red-light cameras from local intersections met mixed reviews.

But behind the rhetoric is a fact that camera supporters herald and opponents dismiss: Crashes caused by red-light runners have gone down locally since the cameras went up.

In the three years after the county installed the cameras, there were about 25 percent fewer crashes caused by red-light runners than in the three years before, according to Sheriff's Office statistics. But camera opponents point out that red-light running crashes were trending down before the cameras were installed.

The Daily News did not include 2009 in the calculation since the cameras first started going up sporadically that spring. There are currently 19 cameras at 10 intersections throughout the county. An estimate for 2012 was generated by doubling the number of crashes from the first six months of the year.

"We've seen significant reductions not only in red-light running but red-light running collisions since the cameras have been installed," said Charles Territo, a spokesman for American Traffic Solutions, the company that operates the cameras. "So it was very surprising to us when the new council so abruptly changed direction."

Since the county first started installing the red-light cameras in April 2009, they have doled out more than 50,000 citations to vehicle owners. It's impossible to say if the cameras directly caused the decline in crashes, but Sheriff Kevin Rambosk said he believes they are a major contributor.

"I would say absolutely yes, it reminds people to do what the law requires, and that is stop," he said. "When you put it all together, there was definitely a difference."

A 2011 study by the University of Missouri found red-light cameras were effective at improving safety and created a "spillover" effect in which drivers are careful at intersections even when there isn't a camera. In Florida, the cities of Miami Gardens, North Miami, Orlando and St. Petersburg all saw a reduction in crashes since red-light cameras were installed, according to Stop on Red Florida, a camera advocacy group.

But there is no consensus amongst groups who follow the issue. One often-cited study out of Greensboro, N.C., found red-light cameras led to a 40 percent increase in total crashes and no decrease in severe crashes over a nearly five-year period.

Collier Commissioner Donna Fiala said law enforcement officials had convinced her the cameras help reduce crashes with serious injury or death. Fiala, who voted to keep the contract with the camera vendor, said she had not heard complaints from her constituents about the cameras.

"I just voted because I feel if you are driving safely, red-light cameras wouldn't bother you in the first place," she said.

Commissioner Tim Nance, who voted to end the county's contract with the camera vendor, challenges the Sheriff's Office's data showing a reduction in crashes. He and chairwoman Georgia Hiller would like the county to look at other ways to reduce red-light running, like changing the duration of yellow lights.

"As they say, 'figures lie and liars figure.' You can prove anything you want to," Nance said. "The majority of the board at this time feels Collier highways and intersections are as safe or safer without (the cameras), and we feel they're not a major influence on serious accidents with serious injury or death."

Nance also said red-light cameras are a deterrent to the hospitality industry, although the president of the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce said that is not the case.

"The red-light camera stuff, as far as we're concerned, had no negative impact on visitors whatsoever and has made the community a heck of a lot safer in the last two or three years," Michael Reagan said. "Quality of life and safety are a big deal for our visitors."

The battle appears to be over locally, at least for now.

"In the end, somebody has to make a decision," Nance said. "The experiment hasn't been very successful."

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Comments » 1

Paul_Henry writes:

One thing I never read about in these stories are actual numbers of red light running crashes (not "related crashes"). My first question:
Why is it the crash data is all of a sudden here now that the automated for-profit (AFP) devices are going away? It sounds like this same data could have been estimated back in June- if you're going to guess how many crashes took place in 2012 by doubling 6 months of data.

Next, you cannot eliminate one whole year of data and expect the analysis to be fair- especially the first year of AFP enforcement. If there was a start date for AFP enforcement, it was likely widely publicized so motorists would be aware of it. This should at a minimum be the starting date for an analysis. Ideally, you'd want the exact date an AFP device was placed in service, and analyze data for equal amounts of time before and after.

Speaking of equal time, to use St. Petersburg as an example of crash reduction is another poor decision. The report the city staff handed in initially omitted a lot of crash data. It was later learned crashes increased there after AFP law enforcement. My own review of 3 years of crash reports vs. 1 year of same for that city (this is the data they used to claim a 60% reduction in red light "related" crashes) showed a 7% increase to the average and no change from the year before AFP enforcement.

Speaking based on my 25 years of Florida police experience, red light running crashes like rear end and fail to yield crashes are impossible to predict. They are caused in the great majority by inattentive drivers, or on occasion an impaired (DUI) or reckless driver. For this reason, an intersection may have 4 one year and none the next, or 3 then 1 or 2 then 4. As a specific example, when I analyzed Hallandale Beach, one of their two automated for-profit intersections showed a reduction of 4 red light running crashes. The thing is, the other intersection a few years prior had the same reduction w/o an AFP device.

Finally: The "just don't run the light" idea would work except for the guilty until proven innocent aspect of the law. If an officer gives out a ticket, it goes to the driver directly (as it should). If an AFP device does so, it goes to the owner via the mail. Numerous mistakes have been made in Florida and elsewhere where innocent people have been ticketed and had to go to the media for relief after the city refused to look at their own evidence.

The bottom line is very few local officials have the integrity that has been shown in Collier County. The amount of money involved has caused many to forsake the oath they took when sworn into office, and to buy into the safety smokescreen when in fact the devices are for revenue.

Automated for-profit law enforcement is a bad idea, and it is un-American. Support the 2013 Florida Motorist Rights Restoration Act.

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