by Matt Florell
This is an analysis of the City of St. Petersburg's red light camera program and the second year report that was released by the City. There are many references to the City's report in this analysis, and it is located here for you to download and look at as you read through the analysis,
If you were just to read the summary of the second year red light camera report, you might think that adding red light cameras was a panacea to traffic safety. The results of which were a massive reduction in crashes, and catching tens of thousands of dangerous drivers traveling on our City's roads. What you would start to notice if you continued to read past the first few pages and into the rest of the report, is that this is a much more complex topic than the summary leads on. It is true that crashes have gone down at red light camera intersections, but just barely(-2.6%), and crashes are still higher than the year before the cameras were installed. Also, the comparison intersections without cameras have had a much greater reduction in crashes(-9.1%) than the camera intersections themselves did. If you look at the crash rate change, the difference is even greater, with the camera intersection crash rate drop at -2.6% and the non-camera intersection crash rate over ten times greater at -28.9%. The intersections without cameras are getting much safer, while the camera intersections have barely changed.
The rosy declarations of massive drops in "red light related" crashes mentioned in the summary, in reality, are mostly offset by the near-doubling of rear end crashes and the large increase in angle crashes at the red light camera intersections. It's almost like squeezing a balloon on one side only to see the other side bulge outward. The crash rate is not significantly going down, it's just changing the classification of crashes from "red light related" to other types of crashes. One reason for this is that when you have cameras monitoring an intersection, you can use them to investigate what really happened in a crash. After reading through hundreds of police crash reports from the second year of the program, I did notice several instances where a crash that a witness would claim was a red light running crash, was in fact a failure to yield crash. What surprised me