Should the State Prevent Cities from Using photo Traffic Enforcement?

Let's face it. Getting a ticket in the mail for speeding or running a red light is no fun.  But the evidence suggests that photo enforcement of red lights and speed is an effective public health intervention, which is why we’re weighing in against HB2525 this upcoming week.  It would prohibit any jurisdiction from using photo enforcement technology to enforce speeding or red light running. 

Many state and local governments in AZ have turned to photo enforcement of speeding and running red lights promote public safety (and some would say to raise revenue). The theory is that drivers will pay more attention to their speed and red lights when they know they’re at risk for getting a ticket. It stands to reason that cameras would keep drivers’ speeds in check and prevent serious injuries from high-speed crashes. But do they?

A landmark study for photo enforcement was done by Retting et.al. and published in the American Journal of Public Health examining the impact that photo enforcement had in Oxnard CA after they implemented their photo enforcement program.  The researchers found that intersections that had red light cameras installed had a 29% reduction in injury crashes.  Right-angle crashes (which often happen because of red light running) were reduced by 32% and right-angle crashes involving injuries were reduced by 68%.  Overall accidents at the intersections were reduced by 7%.

In 2008, an Arizona established a statewide photo speed enforcement program on interstate highways. DPS contracted with a private company to install the cameras (along with signage to alert drivers), and they began operating that fall. Vehicles that were clocked going 11 miles per hour or more over the speed limit got tickets in the mail.  The system was in use until 2010 when the contract expired and the cameras were removed.  Did their presence have an effect on public safety?

Last year, a research team that included Dr. Chengcheng Hu, director of biostatistics for the Phoenix campus of the UA Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, Dr. Steven Vanhoy, a recent graduate of the UA College of Medicine – Phoenix, and several colleagues from Banner – University Medical Center Phoenix, published a paper that offers some insight.

The researchers examined crash data along a 26-mile segment of Interstate-10 in Phoenix where speed cameras had been placed every 2 miles as well as a 14-mile control segment where no cameras had been deployed. They compared crash data from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, 2009 (when cameras were in place) to data from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, 2011 (after the cameras had been removed).  They found that the removal of the photo radar cameras was associated with a two-fold increase in admissions to Level 1 Trauma Centers from car crashes in the areas where the cameras were removed.

Nobody likes getting a traffic ticket, but we believe that photo enforcement of reasonable traffic laws can significantly reduce severe injuries.   That’s why we’re weighing in against HB2525 this week in the House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday, February 22 at 2pm in House Hearing Room 1. 

Believe me, I'm no evangelist for every single speed limit in my part of town nor the placement of some of the cameras and vans- but moving to eliminate this option for local communities would cause public health harm.  I for one  am happy that AzPHA is mobilizing against HB2525 this week.