Tuesday, March 18, 2008

But Wait...I Thought It Was All About Safety?

If you're here in the DFW area, you may have heard by now that the city of Dallas has shut off nearly a fourth of its red-light cameras. Why? Because they weren't making enough money to pay for their operation:
Initial gross revenue estimates for the red light camera system during Dallas' 2007-08 fiscal year were $14.8 million, according to city records. The latest estimate? About $6.2 million. City Manager Mary Suhm on Friday estimated net revenue will fall $4.1 million under initial estimates.

That leaves Dallas government with a conundrum. Its red light camera system has been an effective deterrent to motorists running red lights – some monitored intersections have experienced a more than 50 percent reduction. But decreased revenue from red light-running violations means significantly less revenue to maintain the camera program and otherwise fuel the city's general fund.
Sure, part of the problem comes from a new state law that requires cities to send a portion of camera revenue to Austin. But still...everyone kept saying this was all about safety. Were they trying to pull something over on us all along?

At least one Dallas City Council member agrees with my sentiments:
Council member Angela Hunt, long skeptical of the reasoning behind such camera systems, says she's not surprised Dallas is faced with altering its efforts to reduce red light running.

"The idea of the red light cameras is that they'll be used as a revenue generator instead of being implemented for public safety purposes. It's imperative that the council review this program, especially when the results don't align with the initial performance projections," Ms. Hunt said.

She cited national statistics suggesting that the cameras increase rear-end collisions.
And as anyone who's been reading this blog for a while probably knows, that's the origin of my only real dog in this fight. Four years ago last week, I was rear-ended at a signalized intersection (by an uninsured soccer mom, from whom neither I nor my insurance company ever got a single dime), and, even though she hit me when I'd been stopped for quite some time, I would have actually gone through the yellow light on that day had I not known that my town had recently installed some of the cameras (not realizing at the time that such intersections were precded by warning signs).

Well, once you've been rear-ended (especially myself, since I keep the tools of the trade--my horns--in the trunk), you try to avoid that if at all possible. On my main teaching route, there's a segment where three out of four signals have the cameras, and I can't tell you how much I've done to try to avoid having anyone too close in front of me or behind me in those areas, just in case the light turns yellow. Sure, if I were the first in line, I might well run it if someone was too close behind me, but what if someone in front of me panicked and hit the brakes? Granted, in the first scenario, I'd be risking a citation, but it's always seemed wrong to me to have to choose between what is safe and what is legal.

At any rate, as someone pointed out on the radio yesterday, if it were really all about safety, the city would spend the necessary money to keep the cameras up. The fact that they bailed so quickly seems to support the idea that they really were all about revenue in the first place.

(I do like the idea expressed in the DMN article that they should just leave the cameras up even if they're turned off, as it's likely to serve as a deterrent to the ignorant, or those who just plain forgot.)

Instapundit takes notice as well, and he also points out that they're not doing so well, money-wise (if for a completely different reason) in his hometown of Knoxville either.

They'd need more than cameras to help this guy: A California man crashed two cars on the same highway within a span of about three hours for the same reason: He fell asleep while driving.

I'm glad the cameras weren't running for this guy: A man in suburban New York is charged with going through a Dunkin' Donuts drive-thru with no pants on .

Do as I say, not as I (hic) do: Meanwhile, a Massachusetts driving-school instructor has pleaded guilty to being drunk while teaching a driving lesson.

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