Researchers Uncover Flaws in Red Light Camera Research. Again. Still.

The Newspaper
by The Newspaper
researchers uncover flaws in red light camera research again still

University of South Florida researchers have uncovered fundamental flaws in the first U.S. study that claimed red light cameras decrease accidents. Since 2001, the insurance industry’s report on the benefits of red light camera use in Oxnard, California has been cited by hundreds of cities as the basis for the adoption of photo enforcement. Researchers Barbara Orban, Etienne Pracht and John T. Large attempted to replicate these findings and discovered that the Oxnard numbers, intended to serve as the model of peer-reviewed scholarship, simply don’t add up. “The regression analysis of [Oxnard study authors Richard] Retting and [Sergey] Kyrychenko does not support their conclusion that red light cameras reduced total or injury crashes,” the University of South Florida team wrote in the American Journal of Public Health last month. This sounds familiar…

In 2004, North Carolina A&T University Professor Mark Burkey was the first to publish a detailed critique of the methodology used in the Oxnard report [see: page 13]. The Florida researchers verified Professor Burkey’s findings.

“The Oxnard red light camera study violates many basic principles of sound statistical public health research and lacks internal and external validity,” the Florida researchers concluded. “All red light camera investigations should be scrutinized for adherence to applied research methods since studies with greater adherence to quasi-experimental research designs have concluded red light cameras are associated with large increases in crashes and since special interest groups with a financial stake in red light camera use are actively working to influence public opinion and policy.”

A number of observers have pointed to conflicts of interest involved in the Oxnard study. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety funded the research which, in turn, helped its parent companies collect millions in additional profit. Because widespread installation of cameras has increased the number of photo tickets issued in California, each of which carries license points, these companies have been able to collect substantially higher annual insurance premiums. In 2001, the former majority leader of the US House of Representatives slammed the Oxnard study’s primary author for not disclosing his own fundamental conflict of interest.

“Before joining the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Retting was a top transportation official in New York City at the time the city began looking into becoming the first jurisdiction in the country to install red light cameras,” a 2001r eport from the Office of the House Majority leader stated that, “In other words, the father of the red light camera in America is the same individual offering the ‘objective’ testimony that they are effective.”

As of September 29, Retting was no longer employed by the Insurance Institute. He now works for Sam Schwartz Engineering, a toll road consulting firm.

[Read an extract from the new study at]

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  • Pch101 Pch101 on Nov 12, 2008
    It seems like every measure taken to attempt to enforce traffic laws is dismissed, by a certain subset of driving enthusiasts, as either ineffective, purely a cash grab by some entity or other, or even counter-productive. I don't see this at all. Most people don't object to reasonable enforcement of reasonable laws. Unfortunately, there are a lot of unreasonable laws to complain about. I'll say this again -- if you want to increase compliance with red lights, the easiest ways to achieve that are to standardize the length and, in many cases, extend the timing of the yellow light. The ability to profit from illegal activity gives government an incentive to create illegal activity. There have already been documented examples of yellow light times being shortened at camera points. To do that is to be clearly not motivated first and foremost by safety, and it is disingenuous to pretend otherwise.

  • Brandloyalty Brandloyalty on Nov 13, 2008

    Quoting Pch101: "I’ll say this again — if you want to increase compliance with red lights, the easiest ways to achieve that are to standardize the length and, in many cases, extend the timing of the yellow light." Well, how long would the yellow light phase have to be, to satisfy you that a cash grab is not taking place? Would you expand the use of the yellow light so it's on more than the red and green lights? My observation is that yellow lights are plenty long enough for people driving at the speed limit. Those speeding are forced to make a choice within a limited amount of time whether they can safely stop or must proceed. The faster they're going, the more time they need to make the decision because it will take them longer to stop. And so the faster they're going the more likely they are to go through on the yellow because they can't stop in time. So the speeders think a longer yellow will benefit them. Of course, if they're in the cross streets being stopped to accommodate this, they'll get mad about how long it takes the lights to change. How about eliminating the yellow light entirely? Red lights would be much easier to stop for if people weren't speeding to begin with. Notwithstanding the claim the speed limits are a cash grab also, of course. I don't know if they still do this, but in England in the 70's, they used the yellow light to let drivers stopped at red lights know that the light was about to turn green. The sequence was: red->red+yellow->green->green+yellow->... So drivers were ready to go when the light changed. Why not switch the use of the yellow light? Why not use it for both starting and stopping? Why not eliminate it entirely? Random timing of colors? The point being that one's reaction to how the lights are set up is arbitrary, and related more to one's inclinations and cherished beliefs about the activity of driving. Replying to Wolven: As for trivializing the number of people killed in car accidents yearly, it is still many times the death rate in other cirucumstances that Americans have gone absolutely bananas about. At the risk of stirring up more outrage, I won't mention one particular event. Anyway, you can't just include the deaths. You have to include the injured, plus all the effects of both on the relatives and friends. Plus the property losses. Addressing electronic control of vehicles, I'm all for that. Maybe it could be limited to major highways, and be optional. When you switch onto automatic, any responsibility for accidents goes to the system operators. Anyone driving manually retains responsibility. This challenge to the myth of the romance of driving needs to be addressed. Quoting Kendahl: "While Montana’s daylight limit was reasonable and prudent, I gave serious thought to retiring there. Not any more." Montana went through a period of having no upper speed limit for cars on major highways. Accidents changed from simple rollovers with injuries, to cars crashing so severely it was like they exploded, and all occupants were being killed. That's why the speed limits were brought back. Not to mention the inefficiency of driving so fast.

  • Zerocred So many great drives:Dalton Hwy from Fairbanks to the Arctic Circle.Alaska Marine Highway from Bellingham WA to Skagway AK. it was a multi-day ferry ride so I didn’t actually drive it, but I did take my truck.Icefields Parkway from Jasper AB to Lake Louise AB, CA.I-70 and Hwy 50 from Denver to Sacramento.Hwy 395 on the east side of the Sierras.
  • Aidian Holder I'm not interested in buying anything from a company that deliberately targets all their production in crappy union-busting states. Ford decided to build their EV manufaturing in Tennessee. The company built it there because of an anti-union legal environment. I won't buy another Ford because of that. I've owned four Fords to date -- three of them pickups. I'm shopping for a new one. It won't be a Ford Lightning. If you care about your fellow workers, you won't buy one either.
  • Denis Jeep have other cars?!?
  • Darren Mertz In 2000, after reading the glowing reviews from c/d in 1998, I decided that was the car for me (yep, it took me 2 years to make up my mind). I found a 1999 with 24k on the clock at a local Volvo dealership. I think the salesman was more impressed with it than I was. It was everything I had hoped for. Comfortable, stylish, roomy, refined, efficient, flexible, ... I can't think of more superlatives right now but there are likely more. I had that car until just last year at this time. A red light runner t-boned me and my partner who was in the passenger seat. The cops estimate the other driver hit us at about 50 mph - on a city street. My partner wasn't visibly injured (when the seat air bag went off it shoved him out of the way of the intruding car) but his hip was rather tweaked. My car, though, was gone. I cried like a baby when they towed it away. I ruminated for months trying to decide how to replace it. Luckily, we had my 1998 SAAB 9000 as a spare car to use. I decided early on that there would be no new car considered. I loathe touch screens. I'm also not a fan of climate control. Months went by. I decided to keep looking for another B5 Passat. As the author wrote, the B5.5 just looked 'over done'. October this past year I found my Cinderella slipper - an early 2001. Same silver color. Same black leather interior. Same 1.8T engine. Same 5 speed manual transmission. I was happier than a pig in sh!t. But a little sad also. I had replaced my baby. But life goes on. I drive it every day to work which takes me over some rather twisty freeway ramps. I love the light snarel as I charge up some steep hills on my way home. So, I'm a dyed-in-the-wool Passat guy.
  • Paul Mezhir As awful as the styling was on these cars, they were beautifully assembled and extremely well finished for the day. The doors closed solidly, the ride was extremely quiet and the absence of squeaks and rattles was commendable. As for styling? Everything's beautiful in it's own way.....except for the VI's proportions were just odd: the passenger compartment and wheelbase seemed to be way too short, especially compared to the VI sedan. Even the short-lived Town Coupe had much better proportions. None of the fox-body Lincolns could compare to the beautiful proportions of the Mark was the epitome of long, low, sleek and elegant. The proportions were just about perfect from every angle.