Virginia Beach has the only red light camera program currently active in Virginia, but more cities are desperate to get on the gravy train — and they’re willing to do whatever it takes. Even if that means lying.
The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors voted Wednesday to install traffic cameras, citing bogus statistics to an unquestioning media. Even VDOT’s regional engineer joined with misleading statements about his department’s own findings. From NBC29:
According to VDOT, the cameras have been proven to reduce crashes by 42 percent, but they’re only successful if intersections are a good match.
Well, no. That’s actually the exact opposite of what the VDOT report found. We think it’s important to explain the statistical scam used to generate the “42%” figure which NBC29 obediently misreported.
The VDOT engineer selectively cited a made-up category called “red light running related accidents” out of the agency’s comprehensive 2007 study of every red light camera program in the Commonwealth (see for yourself). Why is it made-up? Because the only types of accidents you’re going to find based on the accident forms used in the field are Angle, Rear End and Sideswipe with severities like Property Damage Only, Injury and Fatal. These accident types are recorded by showing where the vehicle is hit on a diagram. (View the official Virginia Accident Form in PDF). These categories are based in fact and are not subjective.
The “red light running” category is fake because it has a singular purpose: to exclude by definition rear end collisions. Take them out of the way and suddenly cameras look much better.
But you would never do that if you were honest in your concern about safety. There is only one question worth answering in evaluating a red light camera program: What was the overall effect? In other words, were there fewer injuries and fewer accidents, or more accidents and more injuries? When you use questions that cut to the bottom line, you find the VDOT report is very clear:
Based only on the study results presented herein and without referencing other studies, the study did not show a definitive safety benefit associated with camera installation with regard to all crash types, all crash severities, and all crash jurisdictions (page xv)
The cameras were associated with an increase in rear-end crashes. The EB method showed a significant increase in four of the five jurisdictions and a nonsignificant increase in one jurisdiction (Fairfax City)… the EB results suggest that the point estimate of this increase is 42%. A simple before-after comparison after normalizing by time and ADT suggested an average increase of 27% by intersection…. (page 48)
The cameras were associated with an increase in total crashes. Arlington and Fairfax County saw significant increases, Falls Church and Vienna saw nonsignificant increases, and Fairfax City saw a nonsignificant decrease. The aggregate EB results suggested that this increase was 29%, whereas a simple before/after comparison that controlled for time and ADT suggested an increase of 12% per intersection… (page 48)
The association of the cameras with angle crashes differed among jurisdictions, although a preponderance of test results suggested an increase… (page 48)
The cameras were associated with an increase in the frequency of injury crashes. Significant increases were noted in Arlington and Vienna, nonsignificant increases were noted in Falls Church and Fairfax County, and a nonsignificant decrease was noted in Fairfax City. The aggregate EB results suggested an 18% increase, although the point estimates for individual jurisdictions were substantially higher (59%, 79%, or 89% increases) or lower (6% increase or a 5% decrease). (page 49)
The Empirical Bayes (EB) method produces the most sophisticated results, which are summarized as follows:
- Rear end accidents increased 42%
- Angle accidents increased 20%
- Injury accidents increased 18%
- The total number of accidents increased 29%
More accidents. More injuries. Period.
Albemarle doesn’t care. Neither do Newport News and Fairfax City which joined Virginia Beach in thumbing their noses at state law by inking illegal per-ticket contracts with an Australian company, Redflex Traffic Systems, to outsource ticketing.
They don’t care about the law, they don’t care about the truth and they don’t care about your safety — for one simple reason: It’s all about the money.