NMA E-Newsletter #124: Grasping At Straws

There are several media accounts filled with misleading and erroneous quotes by photo enforcement proponents that we can cite at any given time. Finding candid information is often a futile exercise. The following two stories are cases in point.

In Fox Business’ “Why Speed Limits Are Rising” competing views of the value of setting speed limits in accordance with the prevailing flow of traffic are offered.

The reporter tried to present a balance of viewpoints, but one particular statement by Russ Rader, spokesperson for the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS), stands out. The IIHS is one of the most fervent camera supporters, a status befitting its association with the insurance industry.

Said Rader, “The body of evidence clearly points to the connection between higher speed and deaths. I’ve heard the opponents say, ‘We’ve had higher speeds and yet we’ve had the lowest death rates in the last few years.’ But in recent years that’s entirely due to more crash-worthy cars.”

Entirely due to more crash-worthy cars? That is an unprovable statement, one that completely ignores highway improvements, advances in emergency medical care, and changes in the driving population as contributing factors to dropping highway fatality rates. And yes, the establishment of reality-based speed limits has had a major beneficial effect on highway safety statistics.

The cover story of the Spring 2011 issue of Driving Freedoms, our quarterly newsletter for supporting NMA members, makes that case conclusively.

Then there is the “Accidents Fall at Houston Red-Light Camera Intersections” investigative report recently published by the Houston Chronicle.

Last November, voters in that Texas metropolis sent an unequivocal signal to City Hall: get rid of the red-light cameras. To the chagrin of many city officials, the Chronicle found that the number of accidents at intersections formerly populated with cameras dropped 16.4 percent after the cameras were turned off.

Here is a sampling of the excuses from Houston officials and from ATS, the city’s former red-light camera vendor, for the reduced number of collisions after camera surveillance ceased. We are not making any of these up.

  • The weather since November has been unusually dry and drier roads translate into fewer accidents.
    Never mind that the same conditions typically translate into higher volumes of traffic which, in turn, raise the number of accidents.
  • Forget the proven reduction in accidents after the disappearance of the red-light cameras, catastrophe is literally lurking around the corner. Says ATS VP Charles Territo: “But since the cameras have been taken down, or turned off, and since that’s been so highly publicized, behavior has changed in the opposite direction. And Houston drivers are running more red lights than ever before.”
    Let us repeat for you, Mr. Territo, since you have apparently missed the point: Accidents have declined over 16 percent after your cameras were shut down.
  • An ailing economy and higher fuel prices have reduced the number of cars on the road since last November.
    Except that the economy has actually been improving over that time.
  • Accident rates are seasonal so it is unfair to compare crash data from the last five months with data before that.
    Where was the worry about seasonal variations, or the economy for that matter, when the same folks were claiming that red-light cameras were reducing intersection accidents?
  • Territo cautions against comparing data vetted by his company with post-camera data collected by neutral parties.
    Unbiased statistics are unquestionably important. Houston has that with the numbers gathered after last November. Can the same be said for the data filtered through ATS?

Houston city administrators and police officials are straining mightily to justify the use of ticket cameras, but the Chronicle’s report seriously undermines their rationalizations.

Since the city’s voters have already sent a clear signal that they won’t tolerate red-light cameras, those same city officials could better use their time and resources implementing safety measures that can reduce intersection accidents even further. We have a few proven suggestions.

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