Tuesday, February 22, 2011


Some time ago, the citizens of Houston and near-by Baytown voted to remove the red-light cameras that had been installed by their respective cities. Ever since, both cities have been embroiled in lawsuits filed by the camera companies claiming breach of long-term contracts.

The camera companies, hardly disinterested parties, have released questionable studies showing that more drivers are running red-lights at the red-light intersections now that the cameras have been turned off and a corresponding increase in accidents. And the Houston police department has released its own study showing an increase in accidents at those intersections. Both studies are suspect because the camera companies are losing lots of money and HPD is no longer getting its share of the camera revenue.

On the other hand, independent studies have shown that red-light cameras have done little to reduce the number of accidents at intersections with the cameras. If anything, those studies show that the cameras have led to an increase in rear-end collisions, the result of drivers stopping suddenly to avoid running a red-light.

Despite claims to the contrary by city administrators, the police and the camera companies, safety is not the purpose of red-light cameras. The primary, if not sole purpose of those cameras is to fill the treasuries of the cities and the companies that install and operate the camera systems. Red-light cameras are a cash cow, pure and simple.

The Houston Chronicle has run several editorials concerning the vote to abolish the cameras. The editors came out strongly against the ballot measure to remove the cameras. And since the vote they have run several editorials bemoaning the results, parroting the questionable claims of the police and camera companies.

In Sunday’s Chronicle, an astute reader submitted a letter to the editors that really puts the problems associated with intersection safety and running red-lights in focus. Here is that letter:


Your editorial “A fatal vote?” (Page B8, Feb. 10) on red-light cameras still misses the main point – safety.

Traffic engineers have long known how to reduce accidents at highly accident-prone intersections without resorting to red-light cameras.

Studies have shown for years that the best safety measures to reduce accidents at intersections are:

__Having lights in all directions go red for a second before changing to green.

__Lengthening yellow lights.

__Improving timing of lights on main thoroughfares to reduce the need to stop at red lights.

__Severe punishment (including jail time) for serial red-light runners.

These measures could be taken immediately to improve safety, but of course these measures don’t raise revenue or put money into the pockets of the camera companies or their lobbyists – which is the main point of the red-light cameras.

The people of Houston got the message[when they voted to remove the cameras] that revenue trumps safety, and they voted correctly.


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