Thursday, January 26, 2012

Studies Refute Insurance and Camera Company Red Light Camera Claims

New studies from Kansas City and Florida debunk claims by the insurance industry and photo enforcement companies that red light cameras reduce accidents.

A report appearing in the Florida Public Health Review evaluated claims made by a previous report by the IIHS  (an insurance industry funded group) which had claimed that red light cameras broadly reduced accidents in many US cities.  The critique, entitled "Counterpoint: The Insurance Institute for highway Safety Study Actually Found Cities Using Red Light Cameras Had Higher Red Light Running Fatality Rates" was written by three PhDs identified numerous flaws in the IIHS study (read complete report  and the report summary on the web site).  "Our review reveals the 2011 IIHS study is logically flawed and violates basic scientific research methods that are required for a study’s findings to be valid. It has neither internal nor external validity."

The Florida report noted that there was an extreme sampling bias in the study, given that 25% of the cities in the 'control' group in the IIHS study had extremely low red light running fatality rates(0-2) in the "before" period, and as such it would have been impossible for those cities to 'improve' in the after period.  The Florida study also noted some math errors in the IIHS data "For example, population is the denominator in both outcome measures reported (e.g., fatalities per 100,000-population), as well as a numerator in the variable 'population per square mile."

The Florida report concluded "Thus, cities using cameras are estimated to have a 25 percent higher red light running fatality rate in the 'after' period relative to cities not using cameras, despite the greater reported percent reduction in the former," and that "This suggests other interventions were more effective in lowering fatality rates at signalized intersections. However, the authors of the IIHS study did not cite these findings."

The Florida report also noted that insurance companies actually make more revenue in those states where red light camera tickets carry 'points', and that in fact insurance companies actually make more money if tickets are accompanied by 'points', or and are 'ambivalent' about reducing accident accident rates because "crashes resulting from engineering defects of automobiles can be imputed to drivers, which is also true of roadway engineering defects, such as yellow light timings that are set too short, thereby forcing red light running".  So if traffic engineering decisions make accidents more likely, your insurance rates go up and the insurance company may make the same or even more money in the long term.

Meanwhile, a study by the Kansas City Police showed that overall accidents increased after red light cameras were deployed.  "In the cameras’ second year of use, accidents were higher at 11 of the 17 intersections being monitored. Overall, wrecks were up 18 percent at those locations." writes the Kansas City Star.  The study also showed
"• Wrecks more than doubled at 59th Street and Bruce R. Watkins Drive, the intersection that posted the largest increase.
• Rear-end wrecks were the most common type of wreck in all three years studied, before and after the cameras were installed."  
The Kansas City report also noted that more than half of the violations written were going to motorists who don't stop completely before turning right at a red light, rather than for 'straight through' red light running.

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