Appeared in the Voices of the day column of the News Leader
Traffic-light cameras increase accidents, foster poor driving
Jason T. Umbarger • January 10, 2009
Numerous studies from academics, various departments of transportation, governments, insurance carriers and motorist advocacy groups clearly show the automated traffic camera systems present a threat to the safety of motorists.
I was surprised to find in my research that the automated enforcement is not an effective means to bring about a decrease in accidents. The most effective ways to prevent the classic T-bone accident the cameras purportedly prevent are an increase in yellow light times and larger traffic signals. The surveillance of intersections actually brings about an increase in accidents. Traffic is safest when it is most predictable and consistent. Some drivers behave differently when they become aware they are being surveilled. As a result, numerous studies have demonstrated the placement of cameras correlates with an increase in rear-end collision accidents. At the same time, the majority of traffic camera citations are for red-light runners who enter the intersection 0.1 seconds or thereabouts after the light turns red. T-bone collisions adhere to a profile featuring accidents far later following the red light. The lights are thus ineffective at reducing T-bone collisions and actually cause injuries and property damage from rear-end collision accidents.
While any given municipality may have been fortunate enough to experience a decrease in accidents, I would urge a closer examination of the statistics. We should keep in mind accidents and fatalities nationwide are down as a result of improvements in automotive safety, a period of increased gas prices (thus lower traffic numbers) and recession-related decreases in driving. Correlation does not necessarily imply causation as many municipalities would have us believe, particularly in the wake of a sea of academic rigor contrary to the city's contention that automated enforcement in any way improves motorist safety.
The motorists of Missouri deserve better. Missouri motorists deserve the protection of trained professional police officers to issue citations in a safe, prudent and humane way. Our motorists simply cannot be made to suffer the replacement of our policemen with robo-enforcement.
Jason T. Umbarger, MBA, JD is an attorney and lives in Springfield.