Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Red-light cameras in Columbia net little profit; crashes reduced by a handful

Posted By on Wed, Dec 29, 2010 at 6:00 AM

click to enlarge Crashes at Stadium and Worley jumped despite the red-light cameras.
  • Crashes at Stadium and Worley jumped despite the red-light cameras.

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.



The Columbia Missourian

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

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.

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