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Andrew Traub
|Accidents

Cameras blamed for Houston wreck increases

A study of red-light cameras in Houston showed that traffic accidents doubled at those intersections in the first year after they were put in.
Mayor Bill White defended the use of the cameras, which he has favored, saying they prevented even more wrecks. Critics, however, said that the city-financed study supports their contention that the cameras are more about generating revenue than making streets safer.
Violators photographed running red lights at the 50 intersections monitored by cameras get $75 tickets in the mail. Since September 2006, the cameras have led to at least 387,000 citations and generated more than $20 million in revenue.

“There is no scientific, documented proof that collisions are reduced with the red-light camera program,” said Mike Sullivan, a Houston city councilman who opposes the cameras. “I’ve maintained all along that the program was flawed.”

White said a 40 percent reduction in citations in October compared with the same month a year ago is “proof in the pudding” that drivers are heeding the cameras.

“Our goal is to reduce the number of people who are running red lights,” he said in Tuesday’s online edition of the Houston Chronicle. “Collisions are going up all over the city,” Bob Stein, a Rice University political science professor and one of the report’s authors, said Monday. “But red-light cameras have held back that increase at approaches where they have been installed.”

The mayor and the study’s authors are recommending more cameras at some intersections for additional research but acknowledged that comprehensive citywide vehicle crash data are not available.
Stein also acknowledged that Houston police figures show that the accident rate is down since 2004 but said those data are unreliable because police don’t file reports on every crash.

Researchers plan to look at insurance try data to bolster their findings. Those results are expected sometime next summer.

Austin has seven red-light cameras. Police statistics on four of the cameras show that accidents increased at two locations and remained the same at two. Accident information was not available for the other three cameras.

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