The war of the Nanny State's potentially life-saving cameras and civil liberties wages
on! And it looks like the infamous red-light cameras that stalk Missouri city intersections while supposedly lining municipal coffers and preventing crashes might not be so good at their jobs after all. In Columbia, anyway.
First, the money.
reports that in fiscal year 2010 (October 2009-September 2010), the city
issued 1,665 red-light camera citations, bringing in $158,515. That
sounds pretty impressive for a city of 100,000. But it's not. Costs
decimated the income, causing Columbia to clear a meager $18,047. Whoo
Where did the profits go? The Missourian says the cash was
largely offset by a variety of legal and administrative fees incurred
because of the camera use. Gatso, the company that makes the cameras and
maintains them, was paid $58,608. The police department spent $34,101
to take the time review each red-light citation before it was sent,
which was nice of them. Municipal court, bogged down with oodles more
tickets on the docket, shelled out $41,203 in prosecution and clerk
expenses, and the city spent $6,555 for ticket-issuing supplies.
Citation paper and postage aren't cheap.
Of course, the city claims -- as all cities using red-light enforcement
systems do -- that the real reason for the lights isn't to separate
motorists from their money. It's public safety, which, arguments about
civil liberties and privacy concerns aside, is a valid and noble cause.
Everybody wants safer streets.
But, according to a city study, the cameras aren't making Columbia's
intersections all that much safer. While The Missourian notes
that no hard evidence exists demonstrating that cameras stop accidents,
the city studied the four intersections watched by five cameras and
found a reduction in accidents from 157 to 142, which is
nice, but it's far from proof that cameras stop crashes.
The data shows that most of this accident reduction came at one
intersection, Stadium and Forum boulevards, where crashes dropped from
42 to 22. Another site had a reduction of seven crashes. Two other
intersections, though, confound the idea that photo-enforcement is the
latest and greatest tool for accident mitigation.
Stadium and Providence, a headache-inducing busy spot on campus near
University Hospital, dorms and Memorial Stadium, saw only one fewer
accident during the study time. On top of that, the intersection of
Stadium and Worley Street actually saw crashes jump from 51 to 64.
Likely, this won't change anybody's mind about electronic eyes photographing you drive. But diverting police and court resources -- city court added
an extra docket day each week to plow through the additional caseload --
is a tough sell for preventing a relatively measly 15 accidents and
kicking $18K toward the municipal kitty.
Now it's up to the Missouri Department of Transportation to sort through
conflicting information like Columbia found and decide if Big Brother
will be allowed on state-administered roads. MODOT is going to propose a
comprehensive policy regarding enforcement devices to the Missouri
Highways and Transportation Commission in January. And the state
legislature will look at bills to ban the cameras statewide. The next round of the epic battle awaits.