Springs Drivers Are Good Even When We're Bad!

Nationally, the use of red-light cameras at intersections is becoming more and more controversial. Some statistics show they have no affect on the number of car accidents at all. Some say they reduce the severity of the car accidents that would happen in an intersection anyway. Some say they actually increase the number of car accidents.

Naysayers believe all red-light camera programs are cash cows for the city put in place under the guise of “traffic safety.” Still others feel they are a blatant invasion of privacy regardless of any safety or financial benefits. Is any of this, or all of this, valid? And how did we fare during our first six months with red-light cameras in Colorado Springs?

Not bad, actually! The cameras were installed here last summer and the Colorado Springs Police Department began issuing warnings to red-light runners in September and then tickets in mid-October. Our first six months was up for review in mid-April and the results are in. The city originally projected $450,000 in revenue from the cameras and photo radar combined. But it seems that Springs residents are so repentant after being caught running a light, the income expectation now has been bumped up to $780,000 per year.

In May, city spokesman John Leavitt told the Colorado Springs Gazette that our residents are paying their red-light camera-initiated traffic tickets 98.5 percent of the time. The average of tickets paid nationwide is between only 60 percent and 85 percent. Way to take ownership of a mistake, friends! We wonder how many of those payments arrive at the Municipal Court with an apology note attached, too.

All quips aside, the total number of tickets handed-out for red-light violations in our hometown has dropped almost 30 percent since the installation of the red-light cameras. That’s quite a contrast to Tuesday’s “ABC World News” report which referenced a federal study saying  red-light cameras cause a 24% increase of rear-end collisions at intersections. The same study reports a 16% decrease in the number of right angle and T-bone car accidents at the same intersections. But, we have to consider, a rear-end car accident caused by a driver stopping short is far less harmful to passengers than a T-bone accident caused by a driver running a red-light at full-speed. Maybe it’s a fair tradeoff.

Houston residents didn’t think so. The city voted to ban the cameras on the belief that driver violations must be witnessed by a real life police officer and tickets should be written and delivered to the driver on the spot, not weeks later when the driver has no opportunity to dispute the citation. That may be a valid opinion. But what’s the tradeoff for Houston residents? The latest study of Houston intersections shows there has been a 350 percent increase in car accidents since their cameras were turned off.

The numbers are black and white, but the explanations for them are not. The severity of the accidents a safety mechanism helps drivers avoid must be compared to the ones it causes. If personal injuries are up but fatalities are down, how do you say the cameras are a bad thing?

One recent Tweet by journalist Alex Johnson (@MAlexJohson) may have said it best. “Do you like the idea of red light cameras? Have you ever been caught by one? And are your answers perhaps related?”