The insurance industry has been the leading advocate for red-light cameras since they were first introduced in the United States and it’s worth examining why they push so hard for their installation.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), which is wholly funded by the insurance industry, is often quoted by media as an unbiased source despite the fact they benefit financially from their installation.
Richard Retting is a senior transportation engineer for IIHS. He has even been called the “father of the red-light camera movement” in the United States. He’s also the author of nearly every red-light camera study that suggests that installing the cameras has a positive impact on traffic safety. However, as reporter Matt Labash pointed out in his 2002 series on red-light cameras, Retting and IIHS have a vested interested in seeing red-light cameras go mainstream:
Retting is a near ubiquitous presence in the debate. Statistics floated by his Institute are unblinkingly regurgitated by journalists, even if no one notices, for instance, that they have variously put the number of annual red-light-running fatalities at 750, 800, or 850 depending on which day you catch them.
Taking Retting’s word on the safety benefits of camera enforcement, say the critics, is a bit like trusting the Tobacco Institute that smoking increases lung capacity.
While most states don’t yet assess driver’s license points for automated infractions, plenty are toying with the idea, and a few, like California and Arizona, actually do. The insurance industry, then, has a financial stake in seeing as many photo tickets issued as possible, since speeding and red-light infractions allow insurance companies to bleed their customers with higher premiums for the next three to five years.
As Labash mentions above, cities in the state of California report ticket camera violations to insurance companies. This is an important point, especially when you consider that a recent report from the LA Times showed that 80% of red-light camera tickets in Los Angeles were right turn on red violations, which have never been linked to increased accidents.
Obviously, this is an insurance company’s dream.
They’re able to charge higher premiums without exposing themselves to increased risk of insurance claims.
Ultimately though, the red-light cameras are only the foot in the door that will allow speed cameras to become mainstream. Because the majority of speed limits in the United States are underposted, it’s likely that the majority of drivers will exceed the speed limit at some point. Once the speed cameras are installed, the discretion of an officer is removed from the equation and a huge increase in the number of speeding tickets becomes inevitable.
It’s already happening in Arizona where speed camera tickets are being used to balance the state budget.
With each ticket leading to increased insurance premium, drivers are being hit hard financially. Meanwhile, insurance industry profits skyrocket.
There’s no conspiracy theory necessary to understand why the insurance industry loves ticket cameras. It’s logical for them to support them.
But it’s also logical for everyone to take their pro-camera research with a grain of salt.