David Shaw: Orlando using skewed data to boost red-light camera program

Red Light Cameras

The city of Orlando has a very important item on its Consent Agenda for Monday. That item is an amendment to the city’s red-light camera contract with American Traffic Solutions (formerly known as Lasercraft), and it’s very important because it calls for a contract extension of five years along with an expansion of up to 30 additional red-light cameras.

It also calls for making Orlando a prototype market for other types of photo-enforcement. Having an item as controversial and far-reaching as a five-year contract on the Consent Agenda will not lend itself to much discussion by the City Council.

According to draft contracts and related documents received in response to a public records request, the city has been quietly negotiating with American Traffic Solutions (ATS) since at least as far back as April of this year. Those negotiations have continued under two separate one-month extensions with no public notification since the contract expiration date of Sept. 30, and were only exposed after the quiet negotiations were brought to the attention of the media.

Code Enforcement Director Mike Rhodes uses slanted safety claims and crash reduction statistics in an attempt to justify this huge expansion and extension of the city’s red-light camera program in a memo to Purchasing Manager David Billingsley. Specifically, he states that “from 2009-2013, there was a 65 percent reduction in the number of accidents at the monitored intersections.” This claim cannot be trusted, because the city doesn’t even have the correct number of red-light violation crashes listed on the Orlando STOPS website.

According to a public records request response, the city is including violations of Florida Statute 316.074, which over-inflates the total because the statute includes all traffic control devices — including signs. A crash caused by someone traveling northbound on Mills Avenue while making a left turn on to Colonial Drive while the light is green would erroneously be included in the city’s total because there is a “No Left Turn” sign there. The correct number according to electronic crash data received directly from the DHSMV is 268 or less, not “429 or more.”

Additionally, if there truly were reductions, did they have anything to do with traffic volume changes or engineering countermeasures such as an increase in the all-red clearance time from one second to two or more seconds?

Rhodes also writes in the memo “during the same period, 91 percent of drivers ticketed did not commit a repeat offense.” That sounds great, but it is essentially meaningless from a safety standpoint because it only includes this municipality. We have more than a dozen jurisdictions in Central Florida using red-light cameras; vehicle owners have routinely been cited more than once in multiple jurisdictions.

Additionally, many are visitors to the area and don’t return again, which further skews that statistic.

Rhodes further attempts to justify the expansion and extension by stating “over the last year, the number of red light violations decreased by an average of 28 percent per approach.” This is quite a dubious claim, because according to the city’s “Location Performance Summary” reports, 20,335 violations were issued in FY13-14. In FY14-15, 24,691 violations were issued — an increase of 21 percent. Some approaches experienced increases while others decreased.

Finally, it is difficult to comprehend why the city would want to bring its current number of red-light cameras up to 52 from 22, also while adding and testing multiple types of other photo-enforcement during a time when there are pending class-action lawsuits against ATS and jurisdictions including Orlando for operating their red-light camera programs in an illegal manner.

David Shaw is a financial analyst in Orlando, and an watchdog of municipal use of  red-light traffic cameras.

Guest Author


9 comments

  • Larry

    November 16, 2015 at 12:17 pm

    What would be a meaningful statistic in your view?

  • James C. Walker

    November 16, 2015 at 12:53 pm

    It is common for cities to use inflated and sometimes outright false data to support using red light cameras. The purpose for Orlando is money, not safety, and they feel that authorizes them to use any tactics necessary to get the cash. James C. Walker, Life Member – National Motorists Association

  • James C. Walker

    November 16, 2015 at 1:55 pm

    For Larry, and maybe Mr. Shaw also would have a view. Meaningful statistics come from independent and unbiased sources that are not in the revenue stream from ticket cameras and cannot gain in any other way. They analyze from a full database, not a sub-set of data, and they use as close as possible control sites without ticket cameras to make comparisons. James C. Walker, Life Member – National Motorists Association

  • PhotoRadarScam

    November 16, 2015 at 2:42 pm

    I have performed analysis of other city’s camera programs and the cities clearly play games with the stats. The most important thing that must be shown is how the camera intersections compare to non-camera intersections compared to city-wide and even statewide data. If the cameras are working, the camera intersections should perform better than the rest. In almost every case though, the stats show little or no improvement in safety. Many times, external macro factors such as traffic volumes or other changes such as increasingly safer cars causes crash numbers to fall, but police will give sole credit to the automated ticketing because police and NOT traffic engineers are (for some reason) in charge of performing a scientific and technical analysis that should be performed by a traffic engineer.

  • Hector Gavilla

    November 17, 2015 at 1:11 am

    the same thing is happening in Suffolk County, NY. this is terrible. We need to get rid of these money grabs.

  • Shawn

    November 18, 2015 at 2:14 pm

    Even if red light cameras cause more traffic crashes, the revenue generated from the cameras may be sufficient to pay for the damages and prevent law-abiding citizens from having to pay extra taxes to compensate for people who violate traffic control devices. If traffic offenders consider paying a fee to be an acceptable cost for running red lights, why should I be concerned? The 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals has held that “no one has a fundamental right to run a red light or avoid being seen by a camera on a public street.” The arguments I have seen always tend to argue that shortening yellow light durations at monitored intersections is somehow more evil than endangering people’s lives by driving in an unsafe manner. Though I suppose that is not difficult to understand. People often think that their time and money is more important than other people’s lives; why should I expect any attempts to hold people accountable for their lawbreaking to have any support from the people?

  • James C. Walker

    November 18, 2015 at 3:18 pm

    For Shawn: More crashes is NOT a safety program, so their entire argument this is for safety is invalid. James C. Walker, Life Member – National Motorists Association

    • Shawn

      November 21, 2015 at 1:02 pm

      James C. Walker: I have not been convinced that there has been more crashes. However, even if there has, the simple number of all reported vehicular crashes near an intersection is not sufficient for claiming that safety has not improved. In particular, studies have shown that if there is an increase in crashes at an intersection after the installation of a camera, it is mainly the result of increased rear-end collisions due to people actually stopping at lights turning red rather than trying to follow the vehicles in front of them in an attempt to force their way through the intersection before the traffic with a green signal have an opportunity to begin moving. Other drivers are used to people running the red lights and are not prepared for the vehicle to stop. They are usually disregarding the four-second rule and also attempting to run the light, so they are unable to stop in time and bump into the vehicle in front of them. However, these incidents are usually less lethal than the crashes that result from red light violations, which are often right-angle collisions in which the violator’s vehicle strikes the doors of the victim’s vehicle. In 2010, the IIHS looked at results of a number of studies and found that red light cameras reduce total collisions and particularly reduce the type of crashes that are especially likely to cause injuries. A 2011 IIHS report concluded that the rate of fatal collisions involving red-light running in cities with a population of 200,000 or greater was 24% lower with cameras than it would have been without cameras.

      • James C. Walker

        November 21, 2015 at 1:22 pm

        Several points: 1) The 2011 IIHS report was totally debunked by the University of South Florida. By using the same database but analyzing it with proper statistical methods, the Univ. showed that safety was reduced with the red light cameras. 2) The rear end crash rate and the violation rate can be drastically reduced by lengthening the yellow intervals so they are long enough for at least 85% of the drivers (safest method). In 2011 and 2013 the FL Dept. of Transportation changed the rules to almost prohibit cities from using properly long yellows and if cities try, their FDOT Division will usually stop them. 3) The state gets 52.5% of the camera revenue without paying a penny of the typical $4,000 to $5,000 per month per camera costs, so #3 explains #2. 4) If you could survey the rear end crash drivers whose crashes would not happen without the cameras if THEY think the trade off is OK – you would get a resounding NO WAY. 5) The IIHS can surcharge the insurance premiums of drivers who get camera tickets in some states, and they are NOT an unbiased entity in this issue. They would more properly be known as the Insurance Institute for Higher Surcharges. 6) Almost every t-bone crash happens when drivers violate the red light by at least 2 and more usually 5 to 9 seconds into the red. Most tickets go to drivers for violations of less than 1 second, and those drivers harmlessly clear the intersections during the all red phase and before the cross traffic can arrive. There is essentially no overlap between the groups and selling the cameras on the basis they are the same is flatly false. James C. Walker, Life Member – National Motorists Association

Comments are closed.


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