By on January 4, 2010

(courtesy:hamptonroads.com)

In 2007, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) performed one of the most comprehensive statewide surveys of the impact of red light cameras on safety (view report). It caused quite a stir upon its release. The study took advantage of seven years’ worth of data both before and after cameras were installed, examining a far more extensive dataset than most competing studies.

Despite the agency’s best effort to present automated enforcement in a positive light, the unavoidable results were that, on a statewide level, accidents and injuries increased where cameras were used. This outcome has proved to be an embarrassment for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) which has been the primary organization generating research claiming that red light cameras improve safety. IIHS noted that VDOT essentially bent over backwards to accommodate the industry, but because the ultimate results were unfavorable, the VDOT report should be discarded.

“That the final conclusions of the [VDOT] study are guarded and more conservative than the results might suggest supports our belief that the negative results of the study cannot, and should not be cited and used as a deterrent to the implementation of red light camera programs,” a draft 2007 IIHS critique stated.

Essentially, IIHS argued that one should question the VDOT/Virginia Transportation Research Council (VTRC) study because the results conflicted with conclusions generated by IIHS itself.

“A large body of peer-reviewed research generally has found that camera enforcement reduces red light violations and injury crashes,” the final IIHS critique stated. “Results of a new study commissioned by the Virginia Transportation Research Council and completed in June 2007 appear to contradict these earlier findings, but there are significant methodological issues with the VTRC study that call into question the validity of its conclusions.”

The insurance industry’s financial interest in the issue of photo enforcement amounts to hundreds of millions of dollars annually. States like Arizona, California and Illinois impose license points on certain types of red light camera and speed camera tickets. That means for each photo ticket issued, the insurance companies have the legal right impose an annual monetary surcharge on the recipient of as little as $25 to as much as $1000 extra per year.

The draft insurance industry critique argued that VDOT’s model “underestimated” the benefits of red light cameras by using an improper statistical model influenced by the enforcement location selection process. IIHS chose two intersections and re-analyzed the data to illustrate the industry’s suspicion that VDOT’s methodology produced unfair results. VDOT countered this by doing a full-blown reanalysis following every IIHS recommendation.

“While findings regarding rear-end crashes and angle crashes did not change substantially, Table R1 below suggests that the approaches suggested by the reviewers would have caused red light running crashes to increase slightly,” VDOT explained in its response to IIHS.

Specifically, instead of a 42 percent increase in rear-end collisions, the cameras would be associated with a 48 percent increase in accidents. Angle collisions would increase 30 percent instead of 20 percent and “red light running” accidents would increase 15 percent.

In the final, published version of its paper, IIHS dropped the concrete analysis of VDOT’s equation but retained the vague criticisms about how the “highly unusual crash prediction model” was “unreliable.” In a November 2008 email, VDOT Associate Principal Research Scientist John Miller said that he intended to ask IIHS to include VDOT’s response on its website.

As of January 2010, IIHS had not done so. VDOT posted all of the raw data for its report online, inviting independent analysis and critique as the agency finalized its work. IIHS does not provide any raw data on its website that would allow independent verification of the industry’s claims.

View the full VDOT/VTRC point-by-point response in a 170k PDF file at the source link below. The draft of the IIHS report is provided with VDOT’s comments (“authors’ response”) given in gray shaded boxes.

Source: PDF File Peer Review of 2007 VTRC Study and Author Response (IIHS / Virginia Transportation Research Council, 11/1/2007)

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14 Comments on “Virginia DOT Defends Red Light Camera Study...”


  • avatar

    Congrats to VDOT for shedding some needed light on the conspiracy that is red light ticketing.  It’s just a way for the government, red light camera vendors, and insurance companies to take more money out of the publics pockets without giving them a choice.  As the voting record goes to show, no one wants these cameras, and their safety impact is dubious at best and borderline fraudulent.  The IIHS should be completely discredited by the fact it is the INSURANCE institute for highway safety.  They are going to make suggestions in the best interest of the insurance companies and to think otherwise is a mistake.

  • avatar
    Contrarian

    I’m sure the IIHS K-Street boys will be making the VDOT study "shovel-ready".

  • avatar
    MarkT

    “A large body of peer-reviewed research generally has found that camera enforcement reduces red light violations and injury crashes,” the final IIHS critique stated.
    And that large body would be two studies, an Oxnard CA study funded by the IIHS that used regression analysis and an Iowa DOT study that used bayesian inference.  Both studies support a desired conclusion, and have been cited over and over as irrefutable evidence that RLC work.  The two questionable studies become a large body when the IIHS/RLC shills cite them in testimony at every opportunity, then cite that reference as further proof.

  • avatar
    bill h.

    Seems interesting to me that IIHS is located in Virginia, the only state (not including the District of Columbia) in the US that for years has banned use of radar detectors.
     
     
     
     
     

    • 0 avatar
      Syke

      Add to the banning of radar detectors the realization that every sheriff’s deputy (aka, local cop to those of you who don’t have county-wide police systems; aka, township or borough cop in Pennsylvania) has a fully functioning radar gun in his cruiser at all times.  He’s under no limitations as to it’s use: stopped, moving, coming from the opposite direction, following you, etc.
       
      And most deputies keep theirs on at all times.  To quote a Henrico County deputy who stopped in at work last summer, “I have an open door policy.  If I have to open my cruiser door, somebody’s getting a ticket.”
       
      And that is Virginia motor vehicle law enforcement.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      Follow the money … look to see where these guys got their radar guns … who donated them?  who lobbied congress to provide grants to buy them??  Follow the money and you will see that it was not just the manufacturers of radar guns that pushed for their usage, but also the same nexus of players as we see here (with the exception of the RLC makers … this is just the sequel to the previously established business model.)

  • avatar
    ttacgreg

    I get really sick of political / governmental types ingoring reality for their ideology and/or raw money, and/or power grabbing.
    IIHS should rename themselves the IIIHS. That woudl be the  Ideological Institute for Highway Safety.

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      This had little to do with ideology and a lot to do with VDOT sucking up to IIHS, who probably has a good part of the Virginia legislature on their payroll.  And IIHS is only concerned about insurance industry profits.

  • avatar
    carlisimo

    I only had time to skim the report, but it looks like there were only 3 fatalities at the intersections studied and little or no mention of serious injuries vs. minor complaints of whiplash.  It’s not a strong case against those who says that red light cameras are worth installing because they prevent serious injuries from side-impact accidents.

  • avatar
    racebeer

    “A large body of peer-reviewed research generally has found” …. and on that note, this has the smell of a future ClimateGate leak of documents.  Peer reviewed by who???  Only those of the same opinion???

    Worthless — release the data and the calculation method for replication, unless you are hiding something (which the IIHS obviously is).  You can’t cherrypick data like the IIHS did and retain any semblance of objectivity.  Tree rings, anyone????

  • avatar
    Truckducken

    More evil from the IIHS: the return of the speed limit crusade. Elementary cost-benefit blows this away…you waste several lifetimes plugging along at 55 (or 65 or whatever) for each life saved, never mind the value of the time wasted. OTOH, the VA cops can write a lot more $1000 tickets if this goes thru. Whenever I see something from IIHS, I think of the old C&D chestnut about reducing the speed limit to 21 and raising the drinking age to 55.

  • avatar
    krystalkid

    Red light cameras increase the chance of getting rear ended (the most frequent vehicle accident) so I got one of these sparebumper.com

  • avatar
    Robert.Walter

    As soon as there is GPS-speed limiters in vehicles, all this will be moot.  

    This technology is possible, so why ain’t the IIHS pushing it? 

    I agree that the story here reminded me of the seeming selective use, misuse, and abuse of data within the ACGW circles…

    Follow the money… and you will arrive at the methods … follow the money further … and you will arive at the motivations … follow it yet further and you will arrive at the recipients!

  • avatar
    Robert.Walter

    As soon as there is GPS-speed limiters in vehicles, all this will be moot.  This technology is possible, so why ain’t the IIHS pushing it?  I agree that the story here reminded me of the seeming selective use, misuse, and abuse of data within the ACGW circles…Follow the money… and you will arrive at the methods … follow the money further … and you will arive at the motivations … follow it yet further and you will arrive at the recipients!


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