ABC 7 Investigates: Do red light cameras prevent accidents?
Amarillo, TX —
It’s a topic that can inspire road rage for many even when they are not behind the wheel: Red light cameras. The controversy continues over whether they increase public safety or just raise revenue for the city. ABC 7 digs deeper into the numbers to find what is really happening both on the streets and in the city treasury.
Red lights signal drivers to stop, but will red light cameras continue to get the green light from the city? Amarillo currently has eight cameras at these intersections:
Amarillo Boulevard at Tascosa Road, northbound approach,
Amarillo Boulevard at Fillmore Street, westbound approach,
Amarillo Boulevard at Pierce Street, westbound approach,
South Taylor Street at S.E. 10th Avenue, southbound approach,
Ross and I-40 south frontage road,
Pierce and S.E. 11th Avenue,
Coulter and I-40 north frontage road, and
Coulter Street and Elmhurst Drive, north and southbound approach.
City council members agree. They have questions on how effective the cameras really are.
“I have a deep feeling about them that gives me distrust because I don’t like automated systems especially dealing with public safety influencing or enforcing laws,” said city council member Mark Nair.
“I am opposed to red light cameras for the reason that when they were sold to the city it was under the guise it would save lives and prevent accidents,” said city council member Elisha Demerson. “I don’t know whether that has been the case. It definitely has been a revenue generating process and that’s where I think it’s wrong.”
“If it’s a drastic thing and it’s reduced accidents a bunch, you would definitely have to look at it,” said city council member Randy Burkett. “I’m not so sure it’s reduced accidents. The biggest part I don’t like about red light cameras is we’re in partnership with an outside private firm that bothers me more than anything is the private firm is making money off the fines.”
“I have seen accidents nearly occur,” said soon to be city council member Lisa Blake who will replace city council member Dr. Brian Eades in August. “I’ve seen accidents occur because of red light cameras and I don’t like them,”
Mayor Paul Harpole says he has changed his mind about red light cameras.
“I thought they were a bad idea,” he said. “They have absolute lowered accidents and I’m supportive of them now.”
ABC 7 looked at the numbers, both collisions and revenue, to find out if there are fewer crashes and see how much money the city is collecting. Data from the City of Amarillo shows accidents at these intersections have gone down since red light cameras were installed.
ABC 7 found fewer crashes over six years, but initially there were not a large number of accidents. ABC 7 looked at the four of the eight cameras that have remained at the same intersections for six years. Those intersections are:
Coulter Street and Elmhurst Drive
Ross and I-40 south frontage road
Coulter Street and 1-40 north frontage road and
Pierce and S.E. 11th Avenue
Two intersections had more than 20 accidents the first year of the red light cameras. Ross and I-40 had 24 total accidents from 2008-2009. Coulter and I-40 had 22 in the same year. Last year, each had less than 10. Ross and I-40 had eight crashes in 2014-2015. Coulter and I-40 had 2. Another two intersections, Coulter Street and Elmhurst Drive as well as Pierce and S.E. 11th Avenue, started with nine crashes in 2008-2009 and had none in 2014-2015. Rear end crashes approaching all the lights have also gone down to zero in 2014-2015.
Eight-five thousand red light camera violations have been issued in the nine years Amarillo has had red light cameras. Each one costs $75. That adds up to almost $3.5 million in revenue since 2011.
Out of that pot of money, the private company in Arizona that owns and operates the cameras, American Traffic Solutions, earns a set amount each month per intersection. It adds up to almost 50 percent of the total each year. That company collected $1,682,969 from 2011-2014. The State of Texas and the City of Amarillo split the rest, about 25 percent each. The state and Amarillo collected $785,126 each from 2011-2014. The city says that money funds public safety projects based on the city’s needs including emergency signal pop up trailers, new signals and flood gates for bridges.
The Texas State Legislature tried to ban red light cameras statewide last year, but the measure failed. State senator for the Panhandle Kel Seliger says decisions on red light cameras should remain under local control.
“Local government responding to the people they represent,” said Seliger. “Not from hundreds of miles away in Austin but right there at home.”
The decision here in Amarillo will soon be the city council’s to consider. It will need to decide by next August if the city will renew its contract for red light cameras. City council members each say their final decision on the cameras will depend on reviewing the accident data.
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