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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.
Opening Arguments

Lights out

I've been railing against red-light cameras for years, and I haven't seen any evidence to convince me the things add anything beneficial to the human condition, including the latest:

On Friday, the Chicago Tribune released the results of a study it commissioned on injury crashes and red light cameras, revealing that while right angle crash incidents have been reduced, rear-end crashes that resulted in injuries went up 22 percent. The results of the study throw cold water on the booster efforts of Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration and raise questions about the use of red light cameras as a whole.

Chicago is the home of the nation's largest red light camera program and encompasses 350 cameras at a variety of the city's intersections. The red light camera program has been accused of mismanagement and embroiled the mayor's office in a $2 million bribery scandal. But recently, administrators trotted out a seemingly redeeming statistic: that the introduction of the cameras had created a 47 percent reduction in the rate of right angle, or “T-bone,” injury crashes.

The Chicago Tribune in response commissioned a scientific study by two well-regarded transportation researchers, who found that the statistics promoted by the mayor's office were misleading. According to the Tribune, the authors of the study found a statistically significant, but still smaller, reduction in angle and turning injury crashes by 15 percent, as well as “a statistically significant increase of 22 percent in rear-end injury collisions.” Overall, there was “a non-significant increase of 5 percent in the total number of injury crashes” that happened at intersections with red light cameras when comparing the injury crashes that occurred there before and after the cameras were present.

Granted, T-bone crashes tend to be more dangerous than rear-enders, but I think the increases of the latter more than offset the decreases of the former, and the best that can be expected is to break even in terms of public safety. But this has always been more about money than safety -- the red-light cameras bring in tons of fines for the municipalities installing them. If public safety were the primary concern, officials could do more good by simply increasing slightly the amount of time between the orange and red lights.

And we need to stay on our toes. The Fort Wayne City Council has flirted with this more than once, and it surely will again.