Texas Governor Bans Red Light Cameras, Will Likely Kill Texans

Public Domain. Derek Jensen via Wikipedia

Red light cameras have been proven to reduce deaths. Why would anyone ban them?

Greg Abbott, the governor of Texas, recently signed a bill banning red light cameras in all of the state, even though many cities and towns had decided that they reduced crashes, deaths and injuries. Even the Federal Highway Administration says so, noting:

Red-light cameras have been found to be effective at reducing both RLR [red-light-running] and RLR-related crashes. A recent study sponsored by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) evaluated red-light camera programs in seven cities in the United States. The study found that, overall, angle crashes decreased by 25 percent, while rear-end collisions increased by 15 percent.

The rear-enders increased because of drivers jamming on the brakes, and were generally fender-benders. The T-bones caused by red light runners were far more deadly. But this is Texas, and this is Freedom! Angie Schmitt of Streetsblog notes:

Texas already has some of the nation’s deadliest roads. About 10 people are killed on the state's roads daily. In 2017, a total of 3,721 lost their lives. Still for the Texas legislature and Abbott, protecting people from fines is more important than protecting people from getting killed or injured by red light runners. I don’t expect them to be very circumspect, but we’ll soon see the result.

The New York Times coverage of the issue is unintentionally hilarious, starting with one driver's story about getting caught by a camera.

On a recent morning in May, Carlos Barrientos drove up to a Belt Line Road intersection on his way to work in Grand Prairie, Tex. His breakfast sandwich, sports drink, backpack and papers were arranged around him and on the seats, so Mr. Barrientos, 23, tried to avoid making sudden moves. Suddenly a yellow traffic light flickered overhead, followed seconds later, he said, by a red light. A camera flashed, catching his license plate when the vehicle edged close to the crossing or continued through it... “It does not give you any warning.”

So here is this guy, eating breakfast and reading his paper, who misses a perfectly good minimum of three seconds warning of a yellow light, but cannot jam on the brakes because it would spill his sports drink. And this is the reason that Texas has banned red light cameras, so that people like this can continue operating their mobile offices and dining rooms with impunity. But Christine Hauser of the Times also notes:

In 2017, 890 people nationwide were killed in crashes that involved running a red light, over half of them pedestrians, bicyclists and people in other vehicles, the insurance institute said.

She doesn't mention that an estimated 132,000 people were injured. That is a lot of people, a lot of red light running.

The Insurance Institute concluded that banning red light cameras increases death and injuries.

An IIHS study compared large cities that turned off red light cameras with those with continuous camera programs. In 14 cities that shut down their programs during 2010-14, the fatal red light running crash rate was 30 percent higher than would have been expected if they had left the cameras on. The rate of fatal crashes at signalized intersections was 16 percent higher.

So how many people has Greg Abbot just killed or injured? Probably quite a few, and he is not alone; a Texas Republican representative in Congress is trying to take the ban national. He claims it's because you can't really know who is driving the car. "This presumption that the registered owner is the driver impermissibly shifts the burden of proof."

Usually we are firmly in the "driver, not car" camp, but not today.

UPDATE: Mark Harris makes some very good points in his article on red light cameras in The Magazine, concluding:

That red-light cameras can be and have been effective at reducing crashes, injuries, and deaths at certain intersections seems extremely probable. But it remains far from clear whether the scientific evidence justifies their universal use, especially where simpler, cheaper, or more-proven safety measures have not been tried.

It reminds me that the Vision Zero approach is to rely less on regulation and enforcement and more on good road design.