Grits notes with some pleasure a couple of amendments in HB300, the massive TxDOT sunset bill that passed yesterday, which would limit and ultimately end cities’ use of red light cameras. While I’ve never understood the fear and loathing these things have generated, I can’t say I’m surprised by the legislative about-face. The cameras’ opponents have been very vocal, whereas there’s no real pro-camera constituency outside of city officials and vendors. Further, the data on their efficacy has been at best inconclusive and at worst in direct opposition to proponents’ claims of safety improvements. I still think we don’t have a good grasp on the data, and I think it’s possible we’re not using the cameras properly, but frankly if they all do go away it won’t bother me. There are bigger fish to fry, and perhaps if this avenue is closed off cities will take a look at optimizing yellow light times, which to my mind has always been the strongest criticism of the cameras.
Having said that, I continue to be amazed at the gratuitous dishonesty of some camera critics. In one of the stories Grits links to, the claim made by Rep. Gary Elkins that “at intersections [in Houston] using red-light cameras, accidents, mainly rear-end collisions, increased by 118 percent” is reported uncritically. Here’s the much ballyhooed study (PDF) of the effect at camera-enabled intersections on the intersection rate (more here and here). Take a look and see if you can tell me where Elkins got that number from. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Of course, perhaps Elkins, who famously admitted he didn’t know what Medicaid was, despite being on the Health and Human Services Committee, is just confused. It wouldn’t be the first time, that’s for sure.
Finally, as Burka notes, the many amendments to HB300 made it a mess that will likely be completely redone in the Senate. As such, changes like these may or may not make it into the final bill. A separate bill by Isett that also attacked red light cameras passed out of committee at the end of April but doesn’t appear to be on the calendar at this time; if it isn’t approved on second reading by tomorrow, it’s dead. So we don’t know yet what if anything will change with red light cameras this session.