By on January 1, 2009

Accidents more than doubled at the Houston, Texas intersections where red light cameras are installed, according to a study released Monday by Rice University and the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI). This result posed a dilemma for TTI and the city of Houston which had requested the study. Houston Mayor Bill White was furious when he saw the report’s draft text in August. He banned the document from publication and ordered a re-writing of the text that would reflect a more positive result. To accomplish this task, White was able to turn to the study’s primary author, Rice University Urban Politics Professor Robert Stein. Stein’s wife, Marty, is employed by the city of Houston as a top aide to the mayor. Stein’s newly revised report now concludes that “red light cameras are mitigating a general, more severe increase in collisions.”

That left the Texas Transportation Institute with its own difficulty. Last month TTI coauthored another study with the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) intended to support photo enforcement on a statewide basis. This report drew its conclusions from an examination of 56 intersections, 31 of which were found in Houston. The TxDOT-TTI study received wide publicity for the reported claim that red light cameras reduced accidents at camera intersections by 30 percent.

“The TxDOT-TTI results are impossible to square with Houston’s results,” Houston attorney Randall L. Kallinen told TheNewspaper.

Kallinen and attorney Paul Kubosh have filed a lawsuit to force Houston to disclose the August draft of the Rice-TTI study under state freedom of information laws. Publicity over the lawsuit likely forced the city finally to release the final report during a holiday week. The revised report’s data tell a much different story than that presented in the conclusions.

Houston currently tickets motorists at seventy intersections, but the Rice-TTI report examined the first fifty where the most accident data were available. Beginning in September 2006, Houston commissioned American Traffic Solutions to install the machines in groups of ten per month. The Rice-TTI study compared 24 months of pre-installation data to between 13 and 21 months of post-installation data for each of the five groups. According to TheNewspaper’s analysis of overall accident data found in the appendices, the average number of monthly collisions went from an average of 15.4 collisions per month in the two years prior to camera enforcement to 58.3 accidents per month in the post-installation period. Although this figure is not reported in the study itself, the general fact is briefly acknowledged.

“The absolute number of collisions at camera-monitored intersection approaches is not decreasing,” the study admitted.

To achieve the appearance of success, the study divided red light camera intersections into “non-monitored” approaches — the directions of travel at the intersection where the red light camera is not looking — and the “monitored” approaches where ticketing took place. There was a 132 percent increase in collisions at the non-monitored approaches of the intersection where red light cameras were installed and a non-significant 9 percent increase at the monitored approaches. The study treated these increases in both rear end and T-bone collisions as unrelated to the red light camera as long as the accident happened outside of the camera’s view.

The study concluded that because the accidents went up at the non-monitored approaches of red light camera intersections, but effectively stayed the same at the monitored approaches, that the red light cameras were responsible for the “benefit” (a smaller increase) at one part of the red light camera intersection, but not the increase in acccidents at the other. This line of thought would suggest that the increased accidents at the non-monitored approaches of red light camera intersections reflected an increase in accidents at the other city intersections that had no red light cameras at all. The study admits this implication is untrue.

“Currently, conclusions on a general increase in collisions across the city are not supportable with available data,” the study states.

The Rice-TTI dataset also throws doubt on the conclusions of the TxDOT-TTI study. Increases in Houston collisions documented by Rice-TTI mysteriously became decreases in collisions in the TxDOT-TTI report, as follows:

  • Monroe at Gulf Freeway East Service Road: a 913% increase became a 41.7% decrease
  • Hollister at Northwest Freeway: a 747% increase became a 60.5% decrease
  • FM1960 West at Tomball Parkway: a 307% increase became a 44% decrease
  • Richmond at Dunvale: a 103% increase became no change
  • South Sam Houston Freeway at Telephone Road: a 164% increase became a 19.3% decrease
  • East Freeway North Service Road at Normandy: a 52% increase became a 25% decrease
  • North Freeway West Service Road at West Rankin Road: a 18% increase became a 32.7% decrease

In other cases, decreases became more pronounced and increases lessened. To cite just one example, a 217 percent increase in accidents in the red light camera approach of Scott Street at South Loop East North Service Road in the Rice-TTI report became a 50.1 increase in the TxDOT-TTI report. In general, far fewer collisions were reflected in the data used in the TxDOT-TTI report. Since Houston’s results comprised more than one-half of the statewide results, it is unclear how TxDOT and TTI could have concluded a statewide reduction in accidents without data manipulation in at least one of the TTI reports.

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21 Comments on “Accidents Double at Houston Red Light Camera Locations...”

  • avatar
    johnny ro

    My guess is they consulted with the White House on how to make conclusions fit desired answers once inconvenient facts were revealed.

  • avatar

    I am going to assume any increase in collisions would be due to a shortening of the yellow light period (as a means to increase revenue). Is this stated anywhere?

  • avatar

    Surprised the politicians have not been killed or held hostage yet.

  • avatar

    Maybe tailgaters should start learning to back off.

  • avatar

    Governments lie? Governments lie more when there’s money involved?

    Wow. Whodathunk?

    Is there really anyone left out there who is that Leave It To Beaver naive? Really?

  • avatar

    Mayor Bill White supposedly has done some good for the city, but this blog makes me wonder how often he cooks the books.

    Forget about the red light cameras, the Safe Clear program drives me nuts.

  • avatar

    For all they know, crashes went up all around the city but their study design can’t accommodate that examination – which they admit: “Currently, conclusions on a general increase in collisions across the city are not supportable with available data…”

    They should have run a “Multiple Time Series” using other intersections (without cameras) as a control during the same time period of ‘treatment’ of the other intersections. Of course that requires more people and more money.

    The pre/post test single time series they used doesn’t control very well for threats to external validity.

  • avatar

    As far as I am concerned, the good Mayor’s career should be over as a politician and public service. Also, Rice should immediately begin whatever process they follow to rid themselves of a tenured embarrassment.
    Do these guys not realize that people actually DIE in these accidents? Does this professor not understand that he has tarnished the reputation of one of the most trusted institutions left in the Academy?
    Hanging is too good for these rats. We need Rep. Poe to pass sentence and make them wear sandwich boards professing their crimes every intersection in the study.

  • avatar

    Liars figure and figures lie.

  • avatar

    This not a surprise and is not unexpected…

    On of the leading causes of accidents ANYWHERE is having fellow drivers perform erratic or completely unexpected maneuvers.

    We all know in our “gut” the go no-go “point of no return” when you expect the car in front of you to proceed through the coming intersection.

    Red light camera systems DRAMATICALLY increase the likelihood that someone will slam on the binders at exactly the time that you expect they “run the light”

    This causes the dreaded fender accordion syndrome.

    Letting machines without any form of common sense enforce traffic laws does not work… never has, never will.

  • avatar
    El Galloviejo

    ¡ Bill White in 2012 !

  • avatar

    We all know in our “gut” the go no-go “point of no return” when you expect the car in front of you to proceed through the coming intersection…

    Very true. The same logical process is what slows traffic when driving during inclement weather. It is only logical that when drivers figure out where the cameras are, they will jump on the brakes to avoid the ticket. Those not in the know will not be prepared for the driver to stop, after all, the yellow was probably shortened a bit to up the revenue stream. So, rear enders are bound to go up.

    I was bagged by one of these Orwellian devices while driving a company vehicle. Management does not take kindly to employees driving in an “unsafe” manner. So now, I jam on the brakes if the camera-light changes. No rear enders yet, but plenty on near misses, and a few have swerved around me and blown through the now red light. I guess they are in for a surprise in a week. Such selfish behavior is not natural to me, but slowly I am being programmed to not give a shit. Pretty sad but the rear ender won’t be charged to me, but camera tickets will result in forfeiture of the company car…

  • avatar


    (or at least it’ll make you all feel better)

    Find out the license plate number of the Mayor and each of the City Council twerps who voted for this cash grab. Use a laser printer to print some paper license plates with their numbers on them, then tape them over your own license plate.

    Finally, blast thru these intersections to your hearts content (just make sure you don’t get caught by the pigs while you’re doing it).
    Let the City assholes go to the trouble of explaining it’s not their cars a few dozen times each.

  • avatar

    Hey bobkarafin,
    Good Solution, but I think their license plats are on a white list so that they don’t pay any tickets at all. They don’t even get them in the mail.

  • avatar

    Another approach to these devices is to approach the intersection a speed that allows a safe panic stop (7-10mph). That leaves lots of time for the go no-go decision. If you have to stop suddenly you won’t totally surprise the person behind you.

    I didn’t understand that some of these systems log you if you enter the intersection on the red (seems reasonable to me) and others log you if you are still in the intersection when the light turns red (seems dangerous to me).

    New Orleans has one camera intersection on outer Canal (which the CC claims is the broadest street in the world) where the equipment is set up both to tag you if you are in the intersection when it turns red and includes a speed recording device so if you speed up to get through the intersection you will get a speeding ticket in the mail.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    Having been hit broadside by a red light runner, and having had a close friend killed just a few months ago by a runner, I’m all for whatever it takes to get these assholes to get their shit together when approaching an intersection.

    And Mehta, I have to disagree…as a daily commuter, Safe-Clear has improved highway life in Houston.

  • avatar

    These cameras are a joke from the stand point of increasing safety. Ditto for other “enforcement” of traffic laws through techniques various authorities cook up that always involve two things: more coercive powers and profit for the authority in question.

    If we really cared about safety, it would be twice as hard to get a license. If getting a Class D was more akin to the effort it takes to get a basic pilot’s license with no instrument rating, all problems related to cars would improve dramatically.

    Congestion would be curtailed, oil consumption would go down, carbon footprint of the jurisdiction doing this would improve considerably. Accidents would be dramatically reduced with the removal of incompetent or skill-deficient drivers from the streets.

    It will never happen though. Less cars sold means pain for everyone in that industry. Bureaucracies would take a financial bath on ticket revenue. A whole cottage industry of shrinks and do-gooders exists now to recycle DUI drivers back onto the roads for strikes two and three, after even more revenue extraction from said DUI drivers. With tougher licensing, the reason for their financial existence would dry up and blow away.

    Insurance companies would lament the reduction of a mandated business for them. The motor-home industry would collapse with the probable elimination of the licensed geriatric demographic they depend on. Instituting and enforcing such a move would be political suicide for any huckster who actually did such a thing.

    That’s why harder licensing requirements won’t happen, but it also demonstrates that we as a society do not take safety “first” by choice. Politicians should be reminded of that reality every time they roll out the Safety Float to justify their machinations.

  • avatar

    As long as city budgets are on the ropes, and cameras/salesmen promise (by design) revenue, the books will be cooked towards a percieved safety “benefit”. It’s an experiment “in progress”, and I hope that the judicial system eventually sorts this out, and once the truth is known, this silliness stops.

  • avatar

    I’m waiting for the tipping point… one of these days there will enough bs that people will start removing the plates from their cars. There goes camera enforcement. Keep buying $500 junkers to replace the towed ones and you’ve got quite the problem. Enough people in one jurisdiction do it and the government will have to capitulate.

  • avatar

    I am surprised. It seems more people are blaming the camera than blaming the tailgater. No matter what the front car does (other than driving on reverse) and no matter how short the yellow light is, the car behind should never crash into the front car, period. Otherwise, it’s dangerous driving. Let’s blame the dangerous drivers first, OK?

    I think the cameras will eventually lower the rate of accidents. The dangerous drivers will have a learning process, which takes time.

  • avatar

    While what you say is absolutely true, and I am sure the city culprits use this to rationalize their bad policy, let’s do what most regulators can’t seem to do and think a few moves ahead.

    You have now learned that people in your area will stop suddenly as soon as they see the yellow. All good! You back off a bit, pay more attention to trailing distance, put your foot on the brake as you approach the intersection. Man, this is great, so far.

    With all this benefit, you just got about half the cars through the intersection than the existing plans and studies say should be making it. Also, old TINSTAAFL raises it’s head with physics. The sudden stopping at the light is going to degrade the street to the point that it will give out right there, about 20% faster (my guesstimate), if not more.

    On top of this, we know from history as reported by TTAC, that the result will almost assuredly be a shortened yellow to increase revenue from fines. This brilliant move will increase accidents for sure.

    Did it profit the community? Maybe, but likely not. Not everyone is going to know where the cameras are (visitors at least). You now have an inconsistent mix of this behavior all over town.

    All I know is it’s a good time to be in the bumper business.

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