Los Angeles Red Light Cameras Lead To Increased Accidents

Thanks to an excellent piece of investigative journalism by David Goldstein of Los Angeles television station KCAL, motorists are getting the real accident numbers at Los Angeles camera-enforced intersections.

The city has claimed that the cameras reduced accidents by 34%, but a little fact-checking proved this assertion wrong:

Is it money or safety? We wanted to know actual numbers of accidents at red light camera intersections to see if they really went down.

When we asked, the LAPD became very defensive. The sergeant in charge told me in an e-mail, “The city would hope that it is the goal of KCBS/KCAL to discuss the positive aspects of the photo red light program.”

So we filed a public records request. The department charged us more than $500 for a computer run. When we got the numbers back, they told a different story.

We looked at every accident at every red light camera intersection for six months of data before the cameras were installed and six months after.

The final figures? Twenty of the 32 intersections show accidents up after the cameras were installed! Three remained the same and only nine intersections showed accidents decreasing.

Charging extravagant prices for information requests is a common tactic by cities with ticket camera programs who are trying to hide unfavorable results (one city recently took it one step further and just stopped keeping track once they figured out that accidents were increasing.)

KCAL’s investigation found that several ticket camera intersections in Los Angeles had as many as three times the number of accidents:

At Manchester Avenue and Figueroa Street, accidents more than tripled from five before the cameras were installed to 16 afterwards. Westwood Boulevard and Wilshire Boulevard tripled from three to nine. At Rodeo Road and La Brea Avenue, collisions nearly tripled from seven in the six months before the cameras were installed to 20 in the same period afterwards.

So why did accidents increase at camera-enforced accidents?

“People see the light flash and they slam on their brakes,” [local attorney Sherman] Ellison said. “That’s just human nature. As a result, more accidents, more rear end accidents.”

That’s what happened to Dale Stephens, who knew the yellow light up ahead had a camera.

“Because I had that in the back of my mind I knew I had to stop. And it’s so expensive to get a ticket I knew I had to stop. Well they had no inclination to stop,” Stephens said.

“They” are the two cars that hit him from behind.

David Goldstein: “Do you think the red light camera caused the accident?”

Dale Stephens:
“Yes, definitely.”

He’s not alone. Study after study show that red-light cameras can actually cause accidents and some cities are taking notice.

Montclaire, Upland, El Monte and Fullerton all discontinued red-light cameras in part because of accidents. Huntington Beach broke its contract before it even officially began.

“There are quite a few studies out there that will show an increase in rear end accidents in these intersections,” a spokesperson from the Huntington Beach Police said.

Thanks to this investigation, at least one city councilman is considering re-evaluating the red light camera program:

[Los Angeles] Councilman [Dennis] Zine says all accidents should be evaluated. He had been told accidents were down due to the cameras and didn’t know the LAPD was excluding many collisions until I told him.

“If that’s the case, we need to re-evaluate this program if in fact we are having more collisions,” Councilman Zine said.

He says he will take the issue to the City Council because the contract for the cameras is up soon. And if they conclude, as we did, that accidents are up, the red light cameras may soon be coming down.

Thankfully, shutting down ticket camera programs is becoming quite a trend these days.

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