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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.

“Seriously? It’s Come to This?”: NMA Newsletter #345

Posted on August 23rd, 2015 in , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on “Seriously? It’s Come to This?”: NMA Newsletter #345

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We find ourselves saying that a lot these days as we run across more and more stories like these:

The first comes from Edmonton, Alberta, where officials are considering disguising speed cameras as utility boxes. When asked about the idea, traffic safety director Gerry Shimko had nothing to say about the covert operation’s safety benefits. He instead responded with nonsensical statements about the success of the city’s speed camera program even as he acknowledges that speeding continues unabated. Unfortunately, the reporter didn’t ask him to define “success.”

Shimko also said that speeding is the number one priority for police and is more problematic than homicide or gang activity. Given that Edmonton has the fifth highest Crime Severity Index of any city in Canada, we wonder how the victims would respond to that statement.

And speaking of covert operations, Paradise Valley, Arizona, is in the “process of upgrading some of its public-safety related technology” by hiding automated license plate readers (ALPRs) in fake cactuses. Town Manager Kevin Burke said the cameras were placed out of sight for aesthetic reasons, not out of secrecy.

He added that technologies like plate readers and red-light cameras are most effective when people know where they are. A logical reportorial retort would have been, “Then why are you concealing surveillance devices in expensive, fake, arborescent cacti?”

In Jacksonville, Florida, city council members are considering an ordinance making it illegal to back a vehicle into a driveway unless the license plate is showing. The proposal would ostensibly help city inspectors crack down on the insidious practice of storing non-working vehicles on residential property. We also imagine it would make it easier for vehicle-mounted ALPRs to suck up as much plate data as possible.

Meanwhile the suburban Chicago village of Bull Valley is keeping people safe from commercial vehicles that don’t display the required signage. Seems an obscure statute requires commercial vehicles that haul ladders, construction materials, tools, etc., to bear the contractor’s company name.

And while the measure is supposed to cut down on fraud, no other communities in the area feel compelled to enforce it like Bull Valley, which has issued 71 “failure to display company name” citations in the last year. Joliet and Aurora each issued seven and the entire City of Chicago issued one. It’s worth noting that Bull Valley (population 1,111) makes nearly half of its municipal revenue off of fines and fees.

Not to be outdone in the Petty, Yet Arbitrary Traffic Enforcement Category, Massachusetts became the latest state to require drivers to turn on their headlights whenever their windshield wipers are on. At best, the law is arbitrary and unnecessary—we can think of several scenarios in which drivers would need to use their wipers sans headlights. At worst, it could create potentially dangerous road conditions and give police officers one more excuse to pull over and scrutinize responsible drivers.

As if police need any more help in that area. Consider the case of a Georgia cop who pulled over an elderly couple for a window tint violation. He then conducted a lengthy drug interrogation which ended with an unsuccessful drug dog sniff (a rare occurrence). He eventually let the couple go with a warning. Nonetheless, you cannot watch this video without thinking something has gone terribly wrong in certain quarters of law enforcement. What was it about this frail couple that aroused the officer’s suspicions? Their disability vehicle plates or maybe the menacing cocker spaniel in the backseat?

So, yes, it’s come to this: Cops who harass disabled people on the side of the road. Arbitrary traffic laws designed to enhance revenue collection and control. Public officials who babble nonsense and the complacent reporters who fail to challenge them.

These kinds of affronts occur daily all over the country, and it’s important to call them out. What stories make you say, “Seriously? It’s come to this?” Let us know and maybe we’ll include them in a future newsletter.

No Shortcuts to Navigating a DUI Stop: NMA E-Newsletter #344

Posted on August 16th, 2015 in , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on No Shortcuts to Navigating a DUI Stop: NMA E-Newsletter #344

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You may have seen this video of an attorney using a novel approach to navigate his way through a DUI roadblock. Essentially he refuses to have any personal contact with the officers by putting his papers in a plastic bag and hanging them out a mostly rolled-up car window. The officers wave him through without saying a word in what seems to be a staged event.

We question if most officers would react this way. Why take the chance of escalating a traffic stop into a full-blown confrontation—with potentially tragic consequences—by literally zipping up? Your best protection is a reasoned interaction with the police supported by a full understanding of your rights during such a stop.

On the NMA website, we’ve posted lots of information about how to conduct yourself during traffic stops. The following is a condensed version of our article “How To Protect Your Rights During A DUI Traffic Stop.”

First, always keep documents like your registration and insurance card in a readily accessible location. When the blue lights go on, find a safe place to pull over, always on the right side of the road whenever possible. Next, turn your dome light on and place both your hands on the steering wheel where the police officer can see them. This makes him more comfortable about his safety. If you can, roll down your window and vent the passenger compartment of accumulated odors prior to actually stopping.

Be courteous, but admit to nothing. During the stress of a traffic stop, many motorists become nervous and chatty. Resist the urge. You are under no obligation to provide the officer with any information beyond that on your driver’s license, vehicle registration or proof of insurance.

Any admission, however inconsequential, will be used against you. Even admitting to having “one drink with dinner” provides the officer with cause to investigate the matter further. Without that admission he must base his decision to pursue a DUI arrest on your driving or mannerisms after that stop.

If the officer asks if you have been drinking, return his question with a question such as, “Would you like to see my license?” A burned-out headlight is not an indication of impairment and neither is a refusal to chitchat about your night’s events. “I have nothing to say on that,” is a good neutral response.

The officer may ask you to step out of your vehicle, which the courts say is permissible. He may ask you to perform certain physical tests, “just to prove you’re capable of driving safely.” Politely decline. The sole purpose of these test is to provide justification for a chemical test (breath, blood or urine) to determine your BAC. Few ever “pass” one of these roadside sobriety tests, not even the most sober of drivers. You are not required to perform these tests and there is no penalty for refusal.

However, thanks to implied consent laws, most states do require you to submit to a chemical test, or face severe penalties including a driver’s license suspension and even potential jail time for multiple instances of refusal. Many now allow a refusal to be used as evidence against you in a trial. Check here for an overview of implied consent laws and DUI laws by state.

DUI attorneys are divided on whether to provide consent for a chemical test. On one hand, refusal can lead to an automatic administrative suspension of your license and even a criminal charge with penalties approaching those of a DUI charge. On the other, the lack of test results makes the DUI case against you more difficult to prove.

In some cases police can get a roadside warrant to administer a chemical BAC test without your approval. While you may have no choice in that circumstance, always be aware of the actions of the officer and careful of what you say. If the officer has not informed you of what may happen if you refuse to take the test or has not produced a warrant authorizing the test, the subsequent results could be ruled as inadmissible in court.

If you are not impaired, it is usually advantageous to have the traffic stop video recorded. Many police cars now have dash cams for this purpose. If you believe it would be helpful to your defense, ask the officer to turn the camera on to record the stop.

This also says you are not afraid to have your mannerisms and demeanor judged in court. It’s very difficult for a police officer to claim your “speech was slurred” or that you were “staggering” when a video shows a composed articulate defendant being interrogated by a uniformed, gun-toting agent of the law.

If you notice that the officer is intent on sticking a flashlight in your face or in your car, the flashlight may be equipped with an electronic alcohol sensor that detects the presence of alcohol. You do not have to accept this “probing.” You can instruct the officer to keep the device away from your face and out of your vehicle. He is free to look into your vehicle, but only from the exterior, unless he requests to search inside. Never voluntarily permit a search of your vehicle.

To search your car, an officer must have probable cause or at least reasonable suspicion, depending on the jurisdiction. He must be able to describe what he is looking for and why he believes he will find this specific illegal item in your vehicle.

If the officer decides a chemical test is justified you typically have three choices: breathalyzer, urine test, or blood test. Frequently, the police will use a breathalyzer test for the initial screening. However, you sometimes have the option of taking one of the other two tests, at your request.

A breathalyzer test is the most inaccurate means of measuring your BAC. Without going into detail, it should be understood that the error factor can be very high. Some states have agreed that breathalyzer tests are not trustworthy and therefore limit their use in court. That said, if a breathalyzer test generates a reading that confirms your BAC is less than 0.08, you should be free to leave. If the reading is higher, and you believe it is in error, consider requesting a chemical test (even if you have to pay for it yourself) which will be more accurate and will demonstrate your confidence in your sobriety.

A legitimate police stop for a suspected drunk-driving incident should not have to rely on trick questions, sensing devices, or gimmicks to justify a chemical test of the driver. The driver’s lack of control of the vehicle, his inability to reasonably react to questions and requests, and his physical reactions will be a dead giveaway of his impaired condition. Unfortunately, in today’s MADD world, you cannot expect to get fair treatment alongside the road or in the courtroom. All the more reason to never drive drunk and to practice good self-control if you are pulled over.

NMA South Dakota Alert: South Dakota Drivers still Receiving Camera Tickets

Posted on August 14th, 2015 in , , , | Comments Off on NMA South Dakota Alert: South Dakota Drivers still Receiving Camera Tickets

Last year South Dakota enacted a law to prohibit the state division of motor vehicles from releasing driver’s license information to any city seeking to issue a camera-based ticket. The intent was to protect South Dakota drivers from the predatory practices associated with red-light and speed cameras.

Yet, according to this report, South Dakota residents 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 to South Dakota drivers.

The NMA appreciates the intent of the law as written, but it doesn’t go far enough. One solution would be to rewrite the law to prohibit any action against a driver’s license for the purpose of out-of-state camera-based citation enforcement. Another would be to seek legal remedies through the South Dakota Office of Attorney General.

We encourage you to contact your legislators as well as the attorney general and tell them to strengthen protections against unwarranted automated traffic citations. We also encourage you to pass this alert on to others and ask them to do the same.

NMA California Alert: The Facts about California’s Highway Funding Mess

Posted on August 10th, 2015 in , , , , | Comments Off on NMA California Alert: The Facts about California’s Highway Funding Mess

State Senator John Moorlach 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 are a few highlights.

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, including the following:

  • 46th in rural interstate pavement condition
  • 49th in urban interstate pavement condition
  • 46th in urban interstate congestion

In addition, a Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) report on the Caltrans’ Capital Outlay Support Program found that the agency is overstaffed by 3,500 positions at a cost of $500 million per year.

The NMA believes that Caltrans needs to do a better job of serving the driving public. We encourage you to contact your public officials and demand that Caltrans devote a higher percentage of road-user fees to actual road repair and expansion. Caltrans also needs to significantly tighten its belt.

Use the links below to contact your state legislators, members of the Assembly and Senate transportation committees, and the governor’s office. Please pass this alert on to others and ask them to do the same.

Senate Members
Assembly Members
Senate Transportation Committee
Assembly Transportation Committee
Governor’s Office

A Little Help Here: NMA E-Newsletter #343

Posted on August 9th, 2015 in , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on A Little Help Here: NMA E-Newsletter #343

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License plate readers, facial recognition systems, surveillance cameras, cell phone snoopers. They’re all out there, and the NMA needs all the help it can get in fighting back.

That’s why we appreciate the efforts of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). The EFF has made citizen surveillance a priority through its newly launched Street Level Surveillance Project (SLS). The SLS is a web portal that provides in-depth information on the technology police and government agencies use to spy on you every day. And while this technology may help catch suspected criminals, the EFF points out that it also scoops up huge amounts of personal data on people who are not suspected of any crimes.

This is especially true with automated license plate readers (ALPRs), which police can use to track the day-to-day movements of everyone who drives a car. By storing and mining those data, authorities can create a detailed profile of someone’s life: where they go and when, who they see, what they do. And this applies to everyone, whether they’re suspected of wrongdoing or not. Considering that less than one percent of license plate “hits” have any immediate law enforcement value, this indiscriminate tracking of the public raises serious privacy and constitutional concerns.

And to make matter worse, authorities often try to hide their use of these intrusive technologies. Companies that supply the technology may require users to sign restrictive non-disclosure agreements. The Harris Corporation, which makes a cell phone snooping device known as a stingray, prevents law enforcement agencies from disclosing their use of the technology to the media or even to other governmental agencies.

As a result, some police agencies employ stingrays without a warrant because they believe the user agreement prevents them from disclosing that to a judge. This not only raises serious constitutional issues, it threatens key tenets of our republic: namely that officials need to conduct their business with transparency and with accountability to the public.

Speaking of transparency and accountability, what can we do to foster these two important, yet elusive, virtues in government? The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and state public records laws were designed to keep the public informed about government operations and hold government accountable in the process. But they’re only effective if people use the tools they provide for obtaining government information.

That’s why the NMA has created a free guide that explains how to get information from government agencies through FOIA and public records requests. The easy-to-follow steps will help you find out such things as how a particular speed limit was established or how many accidents occurred at a specific red-light camera intersection. Or maybe even how many times your vehicle license plate has been photographed by an automated license plate reader.

Tech journal Ars Technica did just that with the Oakland Police Department and received records for more than 4.6 million license plate images. Read the article here to learn more about the data’s “revelatory potential.”

Other police agencies have not been as forthcoming. When the ACLU and the EFF asked the Los Angeles Police Department for ALPR data, the department told them it was not subject to disclosure, claiming, “All ALPR data is investigatory—regardless of whether a license plate scan results in an immediate ‘hit.’”

The City of Philadelphia used the same logic when pushed for ALPR data, stating, “Such individual license plate readings and accompanying information are investigative materials that relate to individual criminal investigations.”

Based on these statements, it appears that law enforcement regards all drivers as criminal suspects who are under active investigation every time they get into their cars—a theme we explored in detail in this issue of Driving Freedoms.

All the more reason to hold them accountable. If you don’t want to file a public records request manually, the EFF has teamed with to make the process even easier. You simply supply some basic information and submit your request. Learn more here and here. Be aware that nominal fees may apply.

Pedestrians must be Accountable for their own Safety: NMA E-Newsletter #342

Posted on August 2nd, 2015 in , , , , , , | Comments Off on Pedestrians must be Accountable for their own Safety: NMA E-Newsletter #342

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Last week’s newsletter
on whether pedestrians should take responsibility for their own safety garnered many thoughtful member responses. We thought we would share a few with you.

From Dick Goodwin, New Hampshire:

Excellent article! And so true. Most pedestrians seem to have at least a small interest in self-preservation, but all too many apparently think their survival is someone else’s responsibility.

I have had a number of close calls in spite of exercising the greatest care, especially in shopping center parking lots, where there often are no crosswalks, and people just randomly stroll wherever they want without regard to whether there are cars moving around them or not.

My favorite is the woman who leaves the grocery store and heads for her car, while talking on her cellphone, pushing a shopping cart full of groceries and three little kids, one of which is running ahead of her, another trailing behind, and none of them paying any attention to cars.

I have some advice for pedestrians. These things all seem so common sense, but apparently they are anything but:

If you want to cross a street, in a crosswalk or not, wait for drivers to show that they have seen you and are going to stop for you, before you step off the curb.

If you are in a shopping center parking lot, and you are walking down a long line of cars all parked head in to their spaces, and one of them is in motion backing out of its space—STOP. Don’t just walk in back of it! You have no guarantee that the driver will see you and stop.

If you are walking across the parking lot from the store to your car, or vice versa, walk straight across, don’t take some long diagonal stroll down the driving lanes while slowly working your way across the lot. What are drivers even supposed to do with that?

Don’t ever assume that your legal right-of-way confers on you some kind of super power. It does not. The law that gives you that right-of-way is merely a man-made law, and man-made laws are always trumped by the laws of physics.

Boating laws always seem to reflect a more practical approach to right-of-way issues. There are clear rules for boaters to determine who has the right-of-way, such as a 15′ sailboat has the right-of-way over a 400′ oil tanker. But they always note that there is one law that trumps the right-of-way law, and that is the law of gross tonnage. Sometimes you need to cede your right-of-way to the other guy.

Your survival is your responsibility, nobody else’s, and no law can ever change that.

From Tom Beckett, Arkansas:   

I am always amazed at how pedestrians think that because they are in a crosswalk, they are invincible. I have seen too many of them just walk out into traffic, whether it is on a street, or in a Wal-Mart parking lot, without so much as a glance at the roadway. I’m guessing the thought process (if any) is, “I’m in the crosswalk, I have right of way.” That may well be, but it shows a stunning ignorance of the laws of physics, as well as human frailty. My wife will give me a funny look when I check for cars as we step into the Wal-Mart parking lot. I take nothing for granted. As my dad used to say, “Yes, you may be right. But you’re still dead.”

I drove a transit bus in the Binghamton New York area for a little over five years. One of the things I saw constantly was pedestrian inattention. There is a State University of New York campus in Binghamton, hence a lot of college kids. The ones who really got me were the ones who were either listening to some kind of device, both ears plugged into headphones, or the ones who were head down looking at their phones. Both types were prone to just launching off into the street without even looking up.

Finally, New York City. Ironic that the police commissioner wants to go after jaywalkers. I grew up in New York; jaywalking is kind of a birthright there. Of course, one of the first things I learned is that when crossing, look both ways—even on one-way streets. My guess is the NYPD will be after both the motorists and the jaywalkers, both potential sources of revenue because in New York, it’s all about the money.

From a Member in Hungary: 

The situation with pedestrians is far worse here in Budapest, Hungary. I have yet to hit anyone, but I’ve had many close calls! And I consider myself an excellent and very vigilant driver with demonstrably good reflexes even as a senior driver.

There is a law here (it’s also the dominating culture) that pedestrians are never at fault, when my personal experience—and that of other drivers I’ve spoken to—is that pedestrians are at fault most of the time.

Just about all pedestrians think “magically” on the street. For example, as you’d stated, they think the striped crossing lines will mystically and magically protect them. At the edges of town with poor lighting, or sun in the driver’s eyes, pedestrians sometimes can literally be invisible. People in dark clothes on a dark street are sometimes almost invisible until the headlights hit them (all too literally).

Anyway, not to belabor this point, as bad as it is in the United States, it’s even worse here. And we don’t have an NMA to lobby for drivers!

If it Walks Like a Duck: NMA E-Newsletter #341

Posted on July 26th, 2015 in , , , , , , , | Comments Off on If it Walks Like a Duck: NMA E-Newsletter #341

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Summer is the time when communities across the country conduct their annual crosswalk sting operations in which undercover police officers walk out into busy intersections hoping they won’t get run over. The purpose is to ticket passing drivers who fail to yield to, or stop for, the “pedestrian” in the crosswalk.

Locally, the unlucky undercover officers are nicknamed ducks, and we have to wonder about the mindset of those who willingly put themselves in harm’s way for the sake of a $145 ticket. Do they believe the crosswalk markings have some magical power to keep them from getting hit? Incidentally, one officer was struck and injured while he was crossing a downtown street, although he was off-duty at the time. Even so, he continued on duck duty after the accident. Must be some pretty powerful mojo.

And this isn’t the only example of pedestrians attributing protective powers to the constructs of traffic safety. Take the orange flag phenomenon. Some busy intersections around here come equipped with a supply of bright orange construction flags that pedestrians wave to signal their intent to cross. Many simply grab the flag and charge into the street, expecting traffic to respond appropriately. We’ve seen many near misses, and the flag wavers invariably seem puzzled that they nearly got killed walking into the middle of a busy street.

We don’t mean to minimize the importance of pedestrian safety and the role driver awareness plays in it. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), pedestrians account for about 14 percent of all traffic fatalities nationwide, totaling 4,735 in 2013. NHTSA’s vast fatality database can reveal who is most likely to be hit, where they’re most likely to be hit, and even what hour of the day and what day of the week they’re most likely to be hit. The one thing it can’t tell us is why.

The Vision Zero types would have us believe that careless drivers cause most car/pedestrian accidents, but there’s a lot of research to suggest that pedestrian behavior is a primary factor in many traffic accidents. Here are a few examples.

A 2010 North Carolina study found that pedestrians were at fault in 59 percent of crashes, drivers in 32 percent and both in nine percent. The study concluded that pedestrians

… must apply greater caution when crossing streets, waiting to cross, and when walking along roads, as these are correlated with pedestrians being found at fault. The results suggest a need for campaigns focused on positively affecting pedestrian street-crossing behavior in combination with added jaywalking enforcement. … Intoxication is a concern and the results show that it is not only driver intoxication that is affecting safety, but also pedestrian intoxication.

A 2005 study analyzing car/pedestrian crashes in Baltimore noted that

… a large number of all crashes may be attributed to improper pedestrian behavior. Preusser et al (2002) found that in the Washington, D.C. and Baltimore area 50% of pedestrians involved in pedestrian vehicular crashes are judged culpable in the crash. Some pedestrian crashes can be associated with risk-taking behavior such as alcohol consumption, mid-block crossing, and crossing under unsafe conditions such as low visibility or high vehicular volume.

And this from a 2000 Florida study that analyzed the causes of pedestrian accidents:

Some form of pedestrian behavior was the primary contributing factor in over three-fourths of the pedestrian crashes reviewed. Alcohol use, by either the pedestrian or driver, was determined as the primary factor in 45% of cases. Where alcohol use was determinable, 69% of pedestrians crossing not in crosswalks were under the influence.

We’re sensing a pattern here.

Undoubtedly motorists are responsible for many pedestrian accidents. But pedestrians must also assume responsibility for their own safety. Of course, the Vision Zero folks go nuts when they hear this. Streetsblog NYC erupted in anger after the New York City police commissioner stated that 66 percent of pedestrian injuries “are directly related to the actions of pedestrians,” and that police would begin targeting jaywalkers. They whined about punishing pedestrians, stating that the best way to promote pedestrian safety was to not hold pedestrians at fault at all. Seriously.

With this kind of attitude, it’s no wonder so many pedestrians are sitting, or walking, ducks.

The Clean Diesel Alternative: NMA E-Newsletter #340

Posted on July 19th, 2015 in , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Clean Diesel Alternative: NMA E-Newsletter #340

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With the advent of ever more stringent Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency requirements, many automakers are turning to clean diesel powered vehicles to improve fuel economy. If you’re in the market for a new car or truck, a diesel vehicle could save you money down the road. This is because diesel vehicles cost less to own and operate than comparable gas-powered vehicles, even though they cost more to buy up front.

That’s the primary finding of a recently released study from the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI). Researchers compared the fuel efficiency of gas-powered vehicles with diesel versions of the same vehicle. They also analyzed the total cost of ownership (TCO) for each type of vehicle.

A sample of 28,239 vehicles sold at auction during 2012 and 2013 was analyzed. Auction pricing was used as a standardized gauge for resale value and to aid with depreciation calculations. For purposes of comparison, all dollar values were converted to 2013 dollars. Researchers tapped into a wide variety of data sources to determine the following costs for each vehicle:

  • Resale value
  • Depreciation
  • Fuel costs
  • Maintenance and repair costs
  • Insurance
  • Fees and taxes

They then calculated the TCO for each vehicle and sorted by vehicle type (passenger car, SUV, medium duty truck, etc.). The study found that diesel vehicles provide a positive return on investment at both the three-year mark and five-year mark, though the return depends on the model and type of vehicle. After three years, all the diesel vehicles studied, except the Volkswagen Golf, are estimated to have a lower TCO than their gasoline counterparts, with savings ranging from $949 to $7,319. This means that diesel buyers more than offset their initial higher purchase price within the first three years of ownership.

After five years, all the diesel vehicles, except the Volkswagen Golf and the Ford F-250, are estimated to have lower a TCO than their gasoline counterparts, with savings ranging from $1,102 to $19,505.

Depreciation and fuel costs are the primary factors leading to the savings in both the three- and five-year timeframes. The analysis shows that the gap in depreciation between the gas and diesel version of the same vehicle can either decrease or increase over time, depending on the vehicle. The study includes lots of comparative data for specific vehicle makes. If you have your eye on a specific model, check the study to see if yours is covered.

The study authors are careful to point out that the relative savings between vehicles will change as the market fluctuates. For example, rising diesel fuel prices relative to gasoline will decrease the diesel fuel cost advantage. And if carmakers pump enough diesel alternatives into the marketplace, resale values for diesel vehicles will fall, thus affecting TCO.

A couple other thoughts on diesel vehicles: Some drivers are concerned about the availability of diesel fuel. The Diesel Technology Forum estimates that 55 percent of gas stations now carry diesel fuel and provides these resources for tracking down a station near you.

Also, diesel vehicles require a little extra maintenance in the form of adding diesel exhaust fluid (DEF). DEF is required for emissions purposes and needs to be replenished routinely. It’s not a big deal in terms of cost or effort, but it is something to be aware of.

The UMTRI study also makes a point relevant to the debate over vehicle miles traveled (VMT) taxing schemes. VMT supporters argue that gas tax revenues are waning due to the increased numbers of hybrid and alternative vehicles on the road. But according to the UMTRI study, hybrid and alternative fuel vehicles constituted less than 3.5 percent of all passenger vehicle sales in 2014. This means that the total percentage of such vehicles on the road is even less and therefore not much of a factor in declining gas tax revenues. Check here to learn why VMT taxes are not an acceptable alternative for highway funding.

Red-Light Cameras Suffer another Crushing Blow: NMA E-Newsletter #339

Posted on July 12th, 2015 in , , , , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

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News of another city dropping its red-light camera program
may not seem like a big deal these days. It is, however, when that city is in the proverbial belly of the red-light camera beast.

We’re talking about Tallahassee, the capital of Florida, home to dozens of camera company lobbyists and control center for a massive red-light camera network that has plagued drivers for years. Officials there recently announced they will not renew the city’s contract with camera vendor Xerox after it expires in August. According to a city spokesperson, the cameras have been so successful in reducing violations that they’re no longer financially viable. Nice try.

True, violations have plummeted, by 90 percent at some intersections, but the reason has nothing to do with the cameras. It’s because the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) mandated longer yellow-light times in 2013. This came after investigative reporter Noah Pransky with WTSP in Tampa Bay broke the story that FDOT had previously ordered cities to reduce yellow-light times.

Why would they do such a thing? Could it be that the state rakes off more than half of the camera revenue generated statewide, for a total of $50-$60 million annually? Thankfully, Pransky’s series of in-depth reports put an end to that. In Tallahassee, red-light cameras had generated $6.3 million through December 2013, with $3 million going to the state, $2.8 million to the vendor and less than $500,000 to the city’s general fund.

The impact of longer yellow-light times has rippled throughout the state. According to Pransky, more than a dozen Florida cities have shut down their red-light camera programs since the longer yellow-light times took effect, with another dozen slated to end in the next year or so. That represents about one-third of the nearly 80 cities that used cameras in 2013. (Check here for more on the impact of longer yellow-light times in Florida.)

In Tallahassee the decline in violations has been dramatic. Red-light violations dropped from 20,122 in 2011 to 8,097 in 2014, a decrease of nearly 60 percent. The same scenario has been playing out in cities throughout the state. And public officials have been spinning it the same way, stating that the cameras are working “too well,” and drivers are finally changing their scofflaw behavior. In this case, “too well” translates as “we had to stop rigging the game, and now the cameras are eating our lunch.”

We need to point out that many individuals have had an impact as well. Florida red-light camera activists Paul Henry and David Shaw have been fighting to remove red-light cameras from Tallahassee for more than a year. In that time they’ve collected and analyzed huge amounts of crash data, and made numerous presentations to city officials regarding the safety and financial issues surrounding red-light cameras. No doubt their efforts influenced the city’s decision to terminate the program.

It’s hard to imagine writing a newsletter like this just a few years ago. Florida was ground-zero for red-light camera abuses, and camera programs were spreading throughout the state at an alarming rate. Pro-camera forces seemed to have a stranglehold on policymakers at all levels. But the rules have changed, the revenue stream is drying up and the cameras are coming down.

Have the camera companies thrown in the towel? Not at all. Camera vendor ATS may have just saved its Hollywood, Florida, contract. City Commissioners had already unanimously voted not to renew the contract, but an 11th hour offer from ATS to renegotiate terms and to provide short-term financial incentives torpedoed the vote.

Will such maneuvering be enough to salvage Florida’s red-light camera business? We don’t think so. Not as long as the cameras remain a financial liability, and there are tenacious reporters and dedicated individuals looking out for the public interest.

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