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Some Pointers on Driver’s License Points: NMA E-Newsletter #352

Posted on October 11th, 2015 in , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Some Pointers on Driver’s License Points: NMA E-Newsletter #352

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One of the most common questions we get from members is how many points will a given violation add to their driving record. It’s an important question, but it’s not the only one to ask after you get a traffic ticket. You also need to know how many points it takes to trigger a license suspension.

The answers to both questions depend on what state you’re in. This is because different states use different systems for assessing points against your license, and some don’t use points at all.

Traffic violation points systems assign a certain number of points for each traffic citation based on the severity of the offense. If you’re convicted of that offense, the points go on your driving record. Accumulate enough points, and you will lose your license.

The number of points assigned per violation varies considerably from state to state, as does the threshold for suspension. In California, most violations only cost you one or two points, but you can lose your license if you accumulate four or more points over 12 months. In Wisconsin, speeding up to 10 mph over the speed limit will add three points to your record, and you will lose your license if you accumulate 12 points over a 12 month period. In Utah a speeding violation can run up to 75 points, but you won’t lose your license until you hit 300 points.

To make matters even more complicated, nine states (HI, KS, LA, MN, MS, OR, RI, WA, WY) don’t track points, but that doesn’t mean you’re off the hook if you get a ticket. They still monitor your driving behavior to determine if any action against your license is warranted. In the state of Washington, for example, if you’re ticketed for six moving violations over 12 months, you’ll lose your driver’s license for 60 days.

Keep in mind that the points aren’t automatic; you have to be convicted of the offense before they apply. All the more reason to fight every ticket you get, especially if you’re driving record isn’t spotless to begin with. Points usually stay on your record for around three years, but some, like those assessed for a DUI conviction, can stay on for 10 years or more. Check your driving record routinely to see what’s on it. You can order a copy online with your state DMV for a nominal fee.

Points on your driving record can affect your insurance rates, but the relationship may not be as direct as you think. This is because insurance companies don’t necessarily pay close attention to DMV points. They instead use their own points/ratings systems to calculate rates and surcharges using data compiled from third-party sources. This explains why violations that don’t show up on your driving record, like photo-based tickets in most states, can still raise your insurance rates.

This last fact contradicts the frequently repeated statement from politicians, “safety” advocates and camera vendors that camera tickets won’t increase your insurance rates. The NMA refuted this in a prior newsletter, but it’s insightful to consider this chart from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety which lays out camera ticket penalties by state.

In states like California and Arizona where red-light camera citations carry points, there will be insurance consequences. But in states like Maryland or New York the chart notes that red-light camera tickets “may not be used by insurers.” This implies that they are used by insurers in other states. Look at Rhode Island, for example, where it states that red-light camera tickets are “not to be used by insurers until there is a final adjudication of the violation.”

So, what can you do to minimize the impact of points on your driving record and your insurance rates? Here are a few tips:

  • Learn how the point system in your state works. You can track that down on your state’s DMV website or start here.
  • Request a copy of your driving record from your DMV and from your insurance company.
  • Fight every ticket to the best of your ability.
  • If you don’t win a dismissal, try to negotiate down to a non-moving violation or see if you’re eligible to take a traffic safety course as a way to remove points from your record.
  • Check the language in your auto insurance policy which may spell out your carrier’s underwriting standards.
  • Call your insurance provider if you have questions about the impact a specific traffic citation will have on your rates.

2015 Third Quarter Legislative Update: NMA E-Newsletter #351

Posted on October 4th, 2015 in , , , , , , | Comments Off on 2015 Third Quarter Legislative Update: NMA E-Newsletter #351

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The legislative process slows down over summer (not necessarily a bad thing) since most state legislatures are in recess and won’t resume their business until next year. However, we did see a few notable proposals that required our members’ attention in the third quarter of 2015, which we will summarize below.

Alerting members to important legislation is one the NMA’s most important functions. That’s why our completely redesigned, soon-to-be-released website will include enhancements to our legislative alert archive. The new alert posting format will include an up-front summary section so you can get the basics of the bill, along with our position on it, at a glance. The new site will also allow us to post legislative alerts more prominently on each state page as well as on the main home page.

If you’re interested in tracking legislation on your own, check out It provides information on state-level legislation for all 50 states, is easily searchable and sends updates directly to your inbox. You can also find out who your legislators are, what bills they’ve sponsored, how they voted on recent bills and how to get in touch with them.


The NMA supported the efforts of Senator John Moorlach, who recently issued a stark critique of the state of California’s transportation funding along with the condition of its roads. You can read the entire piece here (it’s short), but here’s a summary: California gas taxes are the fourth highest in the nation, and the state takes in $10.6 billion annually in gas tax and transportation fees. Yet, only 20 percent of that revenue is spent on road repair and new construction, Meanwhile, California’s roads rank near the bottom in every category. The NMA encouraged California members to contact their legislators and demand that state transportation officials devote a higher percentage of road-user fees to actual road repair and expansion.


The NMA opposed a push by the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which has jurisdiction over the Interstate Highway System in the House, to expand interstate tolling in its Highway Reauthorization Bill. More information is available at


The NMA opposed Senate Bill 840, which would allow speed camera enforcement in highway work zones. The bill has passed the Senate Transportation Committee.

The NMA opposed the renewal of the red-light camera contract in Abington Township. The township board voted to extend the contract for three years.

South Dakota

Last year the NMA supported a law to prohibit the release of driver’s license information to any city seeking to issue a camera-based ticket to a South Dakota driver. The intent was to protect state residents from the predatory practices associated with red-light and speed cameras. Yet, South Dakota drivers are still receiving out-of-state camera tickets, primarily from cities in neighboring Iowa. Clearly the cities and the camera companies have contracted with third-party data providers to retrieve vehicle registration information necessary to process and send such tickets. The existing law doesn’t go far enough, and the NMA has called for further prohibitions on the ability to issue out-of-state camera tickets to South Dakota drivers.

Thanks to the many NMA members who volunteered their time to send emails, write letters, make phone calls, and work with policymakers and media outlets on these important issues. If you’re not signed up to receive legislative alerts but would like to, use the “Choose Your NMA E-Subscriptions” link in the sidebar of this email.

Mile After Magnificent Mile: NMA E-Newsletter #350

Posted on September 27th, 2015 in , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Mile After Magnificent Mile: NMA E-Newsletter #350

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Illinois is known as the Land of Lincoln, but the title of this e-newsletter is also a motto the state has used to promote tourism. Since Illinois also collects hundreds of millions of dollars annually from motorists for everything from tolls to speeding and red-light camera tickets, it wouldn’t surprise us to learn that many government administrators automatically hear ka-ching whenever the magnificent mile slogan is uttered.

Take the following story as a case in point. A Wisconsin-based friend of the NMA shared his plight with us to see if we had any suggestions. His is a tale of a system that is designed to extract as much money from the citizenry as possible and of hard lessons learned:

In 2011 I got a speeding in a construction zone ticket in Illinois (of course). The thing about it was that there was no construction going on and it was mid-day during the week, so the road was packed. If I was going any slower then I was, I would have literally been run off the road. There were infinity cars in front of me and behind me all very close so I literally going with the flow. Obviously Illinois seems to do these traps on purpose because when I showed up for court everyone in the courtroom was there for the same ticket given in the exact location as I was. They actually had people stand up in rows to all plead at once. I assume they had the entire day scheduled that way as I was just one time slot with hundreds of people for that same time slot.

But I digress. I pleaded guilty as literally everyone did, and was more or less encouraged to, and went on my way. I thought I had paid before leaving so I didn’t have to go back there again. Four years went by of me never thinking about it again with no calls or letters in the mail, etc. Suddenly three weeks ago I saw a ding on my credit for the ticket I got in 2011! So I called to take care of it right away (I called them mind you, still no contact from them to me). I was ready to pay and give them my credit card info over the phone, but right before he was about to run it he verified the total with me. To my surprise it was almost double the original ticket! They let massive interest build on the ticket without me knowing it was even still owed for four years.

I told them there was no way I was going to pay that as it was completely unfair for me to have to fund their bankrupt state by means of shady tactics. I am sure you saw John Oliver recently do a huge piece on municipal fines and how he can’t believe it is legal to do things exactly like this. At the end of the call the guy said he would see what he could do and give me a call back. Of course he never did. So three weeks later I called them back. This time they claimed they couldn’t find my information and just referred me to the circuit court office. They informed me that the only thing I could do is file a motion to have the collection fees dropped which would require me sending a certified letter and then going to court (back in Illinois).

I just wanted to see what your opinion on the matter was. Should I move forward with all that? Is it better to just suck it up and pay nearly $800 on an original $500 ticket that was a scam to begin with?

Where do we start? A double-the-penalty construction zone ticket when workers aren’t even present is something we have lobbied against for years. The cattle-call processing of speeding ticket guilty pleas in traffic court is not the court’s fault; that is on the drivers for caving so easily and not challenging the system. (A system, we might add, that in most places begins negotiating at the slightest whiff of resistance by the defendant rather than expend the resources to try the matter in court.)

Our suggestions to our beleaguered colleague caught in the clutches of the Illinois ticket machine, knowing that his original plea of guilty severely limits his options:

  • Contact the credit agencies and contest the ding on your record. It would help if you have proof that you paid the original ticket or have tried to work things out with the court or the collection agency.
  • Negotiate with the collection agency. Despite any hardball positions they might take, everything is negotiable. They’d rather get something rather than nothing. Ask them for a breakdown of the interest and collection costs that increased the ticket from $500 to $800 and offer to settle for a reduced amount, perhaps the base ticket cost plus reasonable interest. The state charges something like nine percent interest in cases like this which is well above current rates. Offer to pay them less, perhaps four percent interest, and have them forgo the collection costs—let them tell you what they are first—because it is clear that since you’ve not been contacted in the four years since the traffic penalty was established, they have not expended much (if any) effort to find and notify you.
  • Make sure any agreement is in writing and shows that you have cleared the matter by paying the original ticket and agreed-upon penalty.
  • Even if you decide to pay the full $800, make sure you have in writing that the debt has been paid so that you can go about clearing your credit record.

Ultimately the responsibility for an unpaid ticket and its consequences is on the motorist. The government is perfectly happy to let the penalty accrue interest over time or to engage a collection agency to extract an additional pound of flesh.

To quote the recently departed philosopher extraordinaire Yogi Berra, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”

NMA Pennsylvania Alert: Committee to Vote on Speed Camera Bill

Posted on September 25th, 2015 in , , , | Comments Off on NMA Pennsylvania Alert: Committee to Vote on Speed Camera Bill

Next Tuesday the Pennsylvania Senate Transportation Committee is scheduled to vote on Senate Bill 840 which would allow speed camera enforcement in highway work zones.

Billed as a pilot program, the bill would pave the way for more widespread use of speed cameras if passed. For more information on the abuses perpetrated by speed cameras, check out this recent series of articles from The Daily Caller:

Now is the time to stop this bill, before it gets out of committee and on to a full vote in the Senate. Contact committee members and tell them to vote against SB 840.

Where’s the Skepticism? NMA E-Newsletter #349

Posted on September 20th, 2015 in , , , , , , | Comments Off on Where’s the Skepticism? NMA E-Newsletter #349

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Good reporters are skeptical by nature. They’re not supposed to take official pronouncements at face value; they’re supposed to dig deeper to get the real story. Yet, we constantly see lazy reporting on driving issues or stories that simply parrot the latest propaganda from the likes of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

Don’t get us wrong. We expect reporters to challenge our positions, but we also expect them to challenge the conventional wisdom as expressed by those on the other side. They seldom do.

So, when we do see more balanced and thorough coverage of motorists’ issues, we feel compelled to recognize it, as we did when Tampa TV reporter Noah Pransky exposed the rigged red-light camera game in Florida. Pransky’s reporting led to reforms that have curtailed the spread of ticket cameras throughout Florida.

And last week, reporter Kathryn Watson wrote an insightful piece on speed cameras for The Daily Caller News Foundation. Instead of sounding like an IIHS press release, the article exposed the truth that speed cameras have everything to do with money and nothing to do with safety. The headline set the tone: “Speed Camera Are All Profit, No Mercy.”

Watson then told the story of Will Foreman, a Maryland business owner whose delivery trucks kept triggering the speed cameras, even though they weren’t speeding. Foreman received a legal aid grant from the NMA Foundation and went to court a dozen times. He eventually prevailed in several of those cases, but not before being put through the traffic justice meat grinder. Kudos to Watson for even bothering to talk to Foreman. Most reporters who contact the NMA have little interest in hearing the stories of those who have been victimized by photo enforcement.

Watson also dug into the numbers behind the cameras. She reported that in 2010 Forest Heights, Maryland, had a municipal budget of around $2 million. But after the speed cameras went up in 2011 that figure jumped to $5.9 million. The story also described how several large cities like New York and Chicago have raked in tens of millions in speed camera revenue.

But Watson didn’t stop there. She tied the spread of speed cameras to favorable media coverage: “Consequently, speed cameras are becoming more widespread, often encouraged by supportive media coverage.”

And then she dared to question the results of the latest IIHS “study” purporting to show widespread speed camera safety benefits. We have never seen the IIHS challenged in this way. In fact, NMA spokesperson John Bowman was actually quoted rebutting the IIHS report. Again, this never happens, even though we call out the self-serving motives of IIHS and its deficient studies at every opportunity.

Finally, Watson dug up a 2013 study we hadn’t seen yet. It comes from the Association for the Advancement of Automotive Medicine and examined the impact of speed cameras along a stretch of highway in Arizona. The study concluded the presence or absence of speed cameras had no impact on crashes: “Our data did not show any statistical increase or decrease in total number of motor vehicle crashes with speed cameras,” the study said.

Thanks, Kathryn! We’ll add that one to our arsenal.

We understand Watson plans several follow-up pieces. We can’t wait to read them.

NMA E-Newsletter #348: Bogus Statistics Hide Real Problems and Solutions

Posted on September 13th, 2015 in , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on NMA E-Newsletter #348: Bogus Statistics Hide Real Problems and Solutions

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Proponents of aggressive speed enforcement routinely trot out the old saw that speeding causes one-third of all traffic fatalities. Predictably, this dubious assertion showed up in the bogus IIHS speed camera report we deconstructed in last week’s newsletter.

We say dubious because there is ample evidence to show that speed is a contributing factor in only a small percentage of highway fatalities and that other, often overlooked factors play a more prominent role.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) considers a crash to be speeding-related “if the driver was charged with a speeding-related offense or if an officer indicated that racing, driving too fast for conditions, or exceeding the posted speed limit was a contributing factor in the crash.”

This definition is more specific than previous versions but still leaves much to interpretation. Accident statistics are compiled from police reports in which officers must often make assumptions about accident causes without actually having witnessed the accident. We should also note that accident statistics distinguish between traffic fatalities and fatal accidents, but according to NHTSA, speed is a contributing factor in about one-third of fatal accidents as well.

However, if you look at crash data collected by the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (DHSMV), you find something very different. DHSMV collects information on all auto accidents in the state and provides a detailed breakout of various contributing factors.

According to DHSMV, “Exceeded Stated Speed Limit” was one of up to three possible contributing factors, but not necessarily the primary cause, in only 4.2 percent of fatal crashes from 2004-2013, and “Exceeded Safe Speed Limit” was a factor in only 6.1 percent. Total them up and you find, quite conservatively we might add, that only about 10 percent of all fatal crashes in Florida over that ten-year period had anything to do with speed.

So, why the big discrepancy between the national numbers and the Florida numbers? Maybe Florida accident investigators exercise more discretion before simply checking the speed box on an accident form. We know that different agencies/authorities define their terms differently. DHSMV defines a Fatal Traffic Crash as a traffic crash “that results in one or more fatalities within thirty days of occurrence.” NHTSA uses something similar, but the National Safety Council, for example, counts deaths that occur within one year of the accident whether that accident occurred in traffic or in a parking lot or even in someone’s driveway.

In Florida’s case, it’s instructive to look at contributing accident factors even more prevalent than speeding. For example, “Careless Driving” contributed to 20-25 percent of fatal accidents over that same 10-year period, and “Failed/Yield Right-of-Way” contributed to approximately 10-15 percent. DHSMV defines Careless Driving as failure to operate a vehicle “in a careful and prudent manner, having regard for width, grade, curves, corners, traffic, and all other circumstances, so as not to endanger the life, limb, or property of any person.”

The prevalence of careless driving and failure-to-yield violations stems from a lack of proper driver training. That means that up to 40 percent of highway fatalities in Florida could, and should, be addressed through improved driver education—not through more speed traps or more red-light cameras.

Why not more driver education? Because it’s not a money-maker. In fact, it would cost, but wouldn’t the dividend of safer roads be worth it in the long run?


Posted on September 8th, 2015 in , , , , , | Comments Off on NMA National Alert: URGENT THREAT – INTERSTATE TOLLING EXPANSION

Our associates with the Alliance for Toll-Free Interstates (AFTI) have issued the following alert. We encourage you to read this and then contact members of the U.S. House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Committee through the AFTI website.

ATFI has learned that the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee (T&I), which has jurisdiction over the Interstate Highway System in the House, is considering expanding interstate tolling in its upcoming Highway Reauthorization Bill, likely to be released later this week. You remember that, last June, your emails helped minimize tolling expansion in the Senate’s bill – let’s repeat our success with the House! Please join us in urging the T&I Committee members to protect our existing interstates from the burden of new tolls.

Tell the T&I Committee “NO TOLLS” in just 15 seconds

Over the past seventeen years, the Interstate Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Pilot Program (ISRRPP) has served its purpose and demonstrated the unviability of tolling existing interstates. Over the years, six states have pursued tolls via the ISRRPP, and each effort failed due primarily to widespread public outcry over tolling’s negative consequences, which in some cases even triggered state legislative action to protect interstates from tolls. Pilot programs are meant to be temporary. Approaching twenty years in age, the ISRRPP has run its course and should be repealed, not expanded or made more flexible.

We all know that tolling existing interstates would have serious negative consequences. Businesses would face higher operating expenses and, where possible, seek to pass on those costs on to consumers. Commuters and travelers would face steep cost increases and hourly employees might have to work an extra hour per day just to pay the toll to and from work. Traffic diversion around tolls onto secondary routes would cause congestion, increased accidents, higher road-wear and repair costs for local governments, and slower first response times. The cost to drive will be dramatically higher.

Additionally, our Founding Fathers gave Congress the responsibility to regulate commerce; this now includes funding and maintaining the Interstate Highway System, and passing the buck to states is an abdication of duty and violates the spirit of the U.S. Constitution’s Commerce Clause. It may be politically expedient to frame it as a “states’ rights” issue, but this ignores the safety, equity, and interstate commerce implications. Most importantly, it will not solve the highway funding problem.

Please take action by sending an email to Representative Shuster and the House T&I Committee – it only takes 15 seconds and your voice could save the interstate from new tolls.

NMA Pennsylvania Alert: Abington Red-Light Contract up for Renewal

Posted on September 8th, 2015 in , | Comments Off on NMA Pennsylvania Alert: Abington Red-Light Contract up for Renewal

On September 10th, Abington Township Commissioners will meet to consider renewing a three-year contract with red-light camera provider Gatso, unless you do something to stop them.

Red-light cameras have nothing to do with safety and everything to do with generating revenue for the municipalities that use them. (Learn more here.) Nationally, the number of cities using red-light cameras has fallen steadily over the last few years as citizens have pushed back against a predatory and unfair system. You can do the same in Abington Township.

Plan to attend the Abington Township Commissioners meeting this Thursday night at 7:30 pm at the Abington Township Building:

1176 Old York Road
Abington, PA 19001

If you can’t make the meeting, you can still contact the commissioners and tell them not to renew the contract. And please pass this message on to others in the area and ask them to do the same.

IIHS Shills for Camera Industry: NMA E-Newsletter #347

Posted on September 6th, 2015 in , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on IIHS Shills for Camera Industry: NMA E-Newsletter #347

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In its 30-page report issued last week about the Montgomery County, Maryland, speed camera program, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) does its best to revive a reeling camera industry. The use of red-light cameras has been declining for a couple of years now in no small part due to corrupt actions by one of the major camera vendors in the U.S., Redflex and to the unethical use of short yellow lights to drive up violation rates.

Cue speed cameras. In a press release about its study that is short on data but long on dubious conclusions, the IIHS proclaims:

If all U.S. communities had speed-camera programs like the one IIHS studied in Maryland’s Montgomery County, more than 21,000 fatal or incapacitating injuries would have been prevented in 2013.

That is a remarkable statement, particularly in light of what our friends at and Maryland Drivers Alliance both point out: The accident reduction rate on speed-camera-eligible roads in Montgomery County (21.1 percent) was not as good as that of similar streets in the camera-less Fairfax County, Virginia (26.9 percent). The IIHS selected Fairfax County as a control group for the pre-and post-camera time periods it used in its report, 2004 to 2006 vs. 2008 to 2013.

(It is also a remarkable endorsement because less than an hour’s ride from Montgomery County is Baltimore, whose own speed camera program was blasted by the city’s inspector general less than a year ago for mismanagement and corruption.)

You may be asking at this point what speed-camera-eligible roads are. The insurance and camera industries have long taken credit for a spillover or halo effect attributed to the automated ticketing devices. OK, so what effect is that? This from Car and Driver’s Patrick Bedard back in September 2002, proving that old dogs don’t learn new tricks:

Spillover effect is IIHS’s trick for giving the cameras credit for reducing fatalities even where they aren’t. It assumes that red-light cameras at a few intersections will cause drivers to stop promptly all over town, or all over the county, or maybe all over the state, so improvements outside the cameras’ ZIP Codes are credited to them nonetheless. As statistical acrobatics go, this one is breathtaking.

We can think of no better way to wrap up our criticism of the IIHS report than to quote directly from the scathing conclusion of Ron Ely from the Maryland Drivers Alliance and past recipient of the NMA’s Sentinel Award:

The real conclusion from this study should be that our roads are getting much safer without speed cameras, that better alternatives exist for controlling speeds where that is needed, and that the insurance industry does not care about and [sic] integrity of our justice system. The Insurance Industry believes that it is in their financial interest to diminish people’s legal rights so people accused of traffic violations are presumed guilty and have no defense, even to the point where individuals can be accused and found guilty of offenses that happened when they were not even present. While the insurance industry advocates for the use of speed cameras, jurisdictions such as Maryland and DC which have adopted them in far greater proportions than the rest of the US, yet Maryland and DC are the 11th and 3rd most expensive locations for Auto insurance, respectively. A fair answer to the IIHS’s conclusions would be that the insurance industry should put their money where their mouth is and lower Maryland’s insurance rates.

The “Gold Standard” for Red-Light Camera Accident Analysis: NMA E-Newsletter #346

Posted on August 30th, 2015 in , , , , , , | Comments Off on The “Gold Standard” for Red-Light Camera Accident Analysis: NMA E-Newsletter #346

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“Red-light cameras have helped cut wrecks by 83% in Richmond,” cheers a recent headline from The Richmond Times-Dispatch. Wow! That sounds almost too good to be true. Let’s read on.

A little further into the story we learn that the 83 percent reduction was for a single intersection, not citywide, as the headline implies. And while the 83 percent drop in accidents sounds impressive, can we attribute the reduction to the presence of the red-light camera? Likely not, since, in addition to the camera, police had been conducting stepped-up enforcement around that intersection as well.

Nonetheless, a police spokesperson believes “the camera played a helpful role in reducing those numbers.” But who knows? Neither the reporter nor the police provide any analysis to determine if the drop was actually statistically significant (more on this later), or if it was just random chance.

And speaking of crash data, where did the numbers come from in the first place? The police? The red-light camera vendor, or someone else with a financial stake in making the cameras appear as successful as possible? Again, who knows? The reporter didn’t bother to ask, apparently. Camera vendors often “help” police prepare their red-light camera accident reports, so it’s a valid question.

This story template endlessly repeats itself throughout the media, as reporters fail to think critically about what they’re reporting. This serves nobody, except the camera companies and public officials who benefit from the rigged red-light camera game. There are notable exceptions like the outstanding work of WTSP reporter Noah Pransky in Tampa, who exposed the many willful deficiencies in Florida’s red-light camera program.

If media outlets and public policy types would dig into the numbers and analyze the true impact of red-light cameras, the template would look much different.

A great example of this comes from our California colleague Jay Beeber, executive director of Safer Streets L.A. Beeber recently released this in-depth report on the safety impact of red-light cameras in Los Alamitos and Garden Grove, California. In both cities, Beeber found no meaningful reduction in accidents at intersections where cameras were installed. This comes as no surprise, but the rigor of the methodology and analysis makes the results much more compelling than those touted by any police department or local politician.

First off, Beeber used the most authoritative and complete source available for traffic accident data in California, the California Highway Patrol’s Statewide Integrated Traffic Records System database. Second, he rightly focused on changes in accidents caused by red-light running—the accidents red-light cameras are supposed to prevent. Sounds like common sense, but many pro-camera accident reports give the cameras credit for reducing accidents at locations well away from the intersection.

Beeber also analyzed the results for statistical significance, which indicated whether or not the changes were simply random or could be correlated with the use of red-light cameras. This is critical given the few data points available in many cases. An intersection may experience two accidents before cameras and one accident after, for a 50 percent reduction. That sounds impressive, but given the small numbers involved, it means nothing. (A quick look at the low accident totals for each intersection prior to camera installation makes you wonder why the cameras were installed in the first place.)

Few, if any, news stories about red-light cameras bother to mention this. Of the 10 intersections studied in both cities, only one intersection showed a statistically significant reduction in accidents, and even then it can’t be known whether or not the camera caused the drop.

Beeber’s analysis also factors in the fact that rear-end accidents tend to increase at intersections after the cameras go up. Camera supporters often ignore this well-documented phenomenon or downplay the severity of these accidents. For Garden Grove Beeber calculated a Collision Severity Index which determined “whether the total severity of injuries increased or decreased in the presence of the cameras where red light running collisions decreased and rear end collisions increased.”

In the final analysis Garden Grove experienced a non-statistically significant 37 percent decrease in red-light related collisions but also a 61 percent increase in rear-end collisions. Based on the Collision Severity Index, Beeber concluded that this tradeoff “likely represents an overall decrease in safety on the city’s roadways.”

Will a red-light camera company or a police department ever produce a report like this? Not by choice. But reporters and policymakers should demand such rigorous analyses before passing judgment on the safety merits of any red-light camera program.

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