In its 30-page report issued last week about the Montgomery County, Maryland, speed camera program, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) does its best to revive a reeling camera industry. The use of red-light cameras has been declining for a couple of years now in no small part due to corrupt actions by one of the major camera vendors in the U.S., Redflex and to the unethical use of short yellow lights to drive up violation rates.
Cue speed cameras. In a press release about its study that is short on data but long on dubious conclusions, the IIHS proclaims:
If all U.S. communities had speed-camera programs like the one IIHS studied in Maryland’s Montgomery County, more than 21,000 fatal or incapacitating injuries would have been prevented in 2013.
That is a remarkable statement, particularly in light of what our friends at TheNewspaper.com and Maryland Drivers Alliance both point out: The accident reduction rate on speed-camera-eligible roads in Montgomery County (21.1 percent) was not as good as that of similar streets in the camera-less Fairfax County, Virginia (26.9 percent). The IIHS selected Fairfax County as a control group for the pre-and post-camera time periods it used in its report, 2004 to 2006 vs. 2008 to 2013.
(It is also a remarkable endorsement because less than an hour’s ride from Montgomery County is Baltimore, whose own speed camera program was blasted by the city’s inspector general less than a year ago for mismanagement and corruption.)
You may be asking at this point what speed-camera-eligible roads are. The insurance and camera industries have long taken credit for a spillover or halo effect attributed to the automated ticketing devices. OK, so what effect is that? This from Car and Driver’s Patrick Bedard back in September 2002, proving that old dogs don’t learn new tricks:
Spillover effect is IIHS’s trick for giving the cameras credit for reducing fatalities even where they aren’t. It assumes that red-light cameras at a few intersections will cause drivers to stop promptly all over town, or all over the county, or maybe all over the state, so improvements outside the cameras’ ZIP Codes are credited to them nonetheless. As statistical acrobatics go, this one is breathtaking.
We can think of no better way to wrap up our criticism of the IIHS report than to quote directly from the scathing conclusion of Ron Ely from the Maryland Drivers Alliance and past recipient of the NMA’s Sentinel Award:
The real conclusion from this study should be that our roads are getting much safer without speed cameras, that better alternatives exist for controlling speeds where that is needed, and that the insurance industry does not care about and [sic] integrity of our justice system. The Insurance Industry believes that it is in their financial interest to diminish people’s legal rights so people accused of traffic violations are presumed guilty and have no defense, even to the point where individuals can be accused and found guilty of offenses that happened when they were not even present. While the insurance industry advocates for the use of speed cameras, jurisdictions such as Maryland and DC which have adopted them in far greater proportions than the rest of the US, yet Maryland and DC are the 11th and 3rd most expensive locations for Auto insurance, respectively. A fair answer to the IIHS’s conclusions would be that the insurance industry should put their money where their mouth is and lower Maryland’s insurance rates.