Houston Study Rekindles Red Light Camera Debate

A new study conducted by Rice University and Texas A&M University researchers has rekindled the debate about red light cameras because it gives ammunition to those who say the devices prevent crashes and those who maintain they have no safety payoff and serve only to raise cities' revenues. Bill White, the mayor of Houston, Texas, said the study, which was financed by his city, reaffirms the safety contribution of the 70 existing cameras, which have contributed $20 million in fines to Houston's coffers since September 2006, the Houston Chronicle reported. But opponents said it proves their point.

The 16-page study found that collisions at intersections equipped with cameras doubled in the first year after their installation. But White said the cameras have prevented an even greater number of collisions from occurring; he and the study's authors say collisions are rising generally citywide. "The program is proving successful in improving public safety, which has been the goal since the beginning," White said Monday. "We believe the findings and conclusions provide sound evidence of that."

The study was conducted by researchers for the Center for Civic Engagement at Rice University in collaboration with the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M. It compares data between the 50 intersections in Houston that have cameras and those without cameras, both before and after the program began in September 2006. Most of the equipped intersections have a camera installed for just one direction, not all four, and it was at the unmonitored points in those intersections that experienced the greatest increase in collisions, according to the study.

"As the study points out, when we compared non-monitored to monitored approaches before and after the cameras, we see that non-monitored approaches have observed an increase in collisions that is not observed at the monitored approaches," said Tim Lomax, research engineer and mobility analyst with the Texas Transportation Institute.

Mike Sullivan, a city councilman who has steadfastly opposed the cameras, told the Chronicle that the study proves they are generating revenue, not increasing safety.

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