Government Greed vs. Public Safety

Red light cameras, though they’re justified on public safety grounds, are often installed for different reasons. Here’s Radley Balko:

[T]he most troubling thing about traffic cameras is the way city governments grow dependent on the revenue they generate. Bethesda, Md., was caught shortening a yellow light at the city’s most lucrative red-light camera, in an effort to squeeze more cash out of its motorists. When tickets dropped off from existing speed cameras in Washington, the City Council simply installed more, and raised the fines. Sacramento now charges motorists $351 for a single red-light violation.

Flashback: DC’s Mayor Williams really likes those traffic cameras that help officials fine drivers:

“There is an urgent need for the approval of this contract to ensure the continued processing of District tickets and the collection of District revenues,” Mr. Williams wrote in a Dec. 16 letter to D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp. In the letter, Mr. Williams was seeking support for the District’s $14.6 million contract with ACS State and Local Solutions, which the council later approved. ACS, a private company, handles fines for the city’s automated traffic-enforcement program.

While the mayor made it clear that he has an urgent need to grab revenue, he didn’t express much urgency about improving public safety. In fact, he didn’t even mention public safety. Oops:

A spokeswoman for Mr. Williams yesterday said that the mayor’s views about red light and speed cameras haven’t changed and that he probably should have included “an extra sentence about public safety” in his letter to Mrs. Cropp. “The mayor has always felt that with the red-light cameras and the other equipment we use to catch people who are speeding, safety is our foremost goal,” said Sharon Gang, spokeswoman for Mr. Williams.

And if the cameras are positioned to maximize safety, not revenue, it’s still not clear they make streets safer:

[S]everal studies in recent years–in places like San Diego, Charlotte, N.C., and Australia … have shown that the reduction in side-angle collisions at the intersections has been wholly or largely offset by an increase in rear-end accidents …