Study: Red-Light Cameras Reducing Crashes in Texas

By PAUL J. WEBER | August 3, 2011

Red-light crashes fell 25 percent at hundreds of Texas intersections after traffic cameras were installed, researchers said Monday in what was called the first statewide study of its kind.

The Texas Transportation Institute suggested its findings again showed the effectiveness of installing cameras to deter red-light runners. Yet backlash toward the cameras remains high, including in Houston, where drivers voted to end the city’s red-light cameras in a November referendum.

A federal judge later struck down the ballot measure, and Houston turned the cameras back on. According to crash data analyzed by the Texas Transportation Institute and released in Monday’s report, accidents fell by 28 percent at 31 intersections in Houston where the cameras had been up and running for two years.

At least three dozen Texas cities use red-light cameras, according to the report.

“I truly think these cameras are doing what they were intended to do,” said Troy Walden, who authored the study and is a former College Station police officer.

Critics argue otherwise, calling red-light cameras unproven and a scheme to generate revenue from traffic tickets.

In June, opponents referenced data showing a drop in accidents at red-light intersections in Houston after the city was forced to turn off the cameras following the November vote. The cameras, which Houston first installed in 2007, have brought in about $44 million in traffic fines for the city.

In Dallas, the report released Monday found a 38 percent drop in red-light crashes at intersections where cameras had been up and running for two years. Lufkin saw a 24 percent drop, and red-light accidents in El Paso fell 25 percent at intersections that had cameras installed for at least three years.

But not at cities were down. In Corpus Christi, the study found there were eight more red-light crashes in the two years after the city installed traffic cameras at those intersections than the two years prior.

The Texas Transportation Institute, a research arm of the Texas A&M University System, analyzed the crash figures at the request of lawmakers who asked state transportation leaders to compile the data. Researchers looked at crash data from about 275 intersections in Texas, both before and after red-light cameras were installed.

The study identified more than 15,000 crashes through 2009 in a state transportation database. Walden called it the most comprehensive red-light camera study in Texas to date.

Robert Stein, a political science professor at Rice University who has studied Houston’s red-light cameras, said fewer intersection crashes follows a general decline in accidents on U.S. roadways. He said more cars with anti-lock brakes, older cars gradually being taken off the road and the recession causing more out-of-work Americans to drive less may all factor into lower accident numbers, along with red-light cameras.

Last month, a federal judge ruled that the results of the November red-light camera measure were invalid because it violated the city charter covering the timing for repeal of an ordinance.

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