Opinion: Insurance Institute Traffic Camera Study Flawed
IIHS News Release http://www.iihs.org/news/rss/pr020111.html
Opinion: Insurance Institute Traffic Camera Study Flawed
Insurance industry report claiming fatality reduction did not actually examine a single red light camera accident.The automated enforcement industry has suffered significant setbacks in the past several months. In November, voters in America’s fourth largest city, Houston, Texas, used the referendum process to outlaw automated ticketing machines. A number of California cities have been dropping red light camera programs after experiencing mediocre safety results. Now one of the key industry players, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), is fighting back with a report released today claiming that with more red light cameras “a total of 815 deaths could have been avoided.” The IIHS report, however, did not actually consider a single red light camera accident.
Instead, the Insurance Institute looked at the raw number of intersection fatalities in 62 large US cities and divided them into a group of 14 localities where red light cameras were installed and a group of 48 camera-free cities. For each group, accidents in the “before” period of 1992 to 1996 were compared with an “after” period of 2004 to 2008. IIHS claimed that fatal “red light” crashes (defined as any intersection crash except a rear end collision) dropped 35 percent in the after period for the cities that happened to have cameras but only dropped 14 percent in the after period. The results reflect citywide accident numbers, not figures at photo enforced locations.
The problem with this overly simplistic method is that it credits red light cameras with accident reductions that take place at intersections without any cameras. It also ignores the natural reduction in fatality rates that happens as automobiles become more crashworthy and hospital trauma care improves over time. Overall, between 1992 and 2008, the fatality rate nationwide dropped 28 percent. The rate is down 35 percent in 2009, representing the lowest rate since records were first kept in 1950.
A more complete analysis of fatal accidents performed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration concluded that “large fatality declines tended to coincide with areas that had higher increases in rates of unemployment” (view report). This is the case because unemployment takes drivers off the road in peak travel times reducing the chances of an accident. Many of the hardest hit areas economically have turned to automated enforcement to increase revenue. Moreover, studies conducted by independent researchers examining actual accident reports have found that accidents and injuries tend to increase where cameras are used (view reports). This is one of the reasons the public has turned against cameras, a fact that the industry attempts to deny.
“National surveys indicate widespread support for red light cameras,” the insurance industry press release claimed. “At the same time, opponents of automated enforcement have become increasingly vocal, claiming that camera programs are revenue-generating schemes.”
This assertion emphasizes the IIHS report’s lack of objectivity. It is impossible to claim “widespread” support for a program that has been rejected at the ballot box in fifteen out of fifteen elections. The mix of cities that rejected cameras encompass East coast, West coast, liberal, conservative, small and large demographic groups. The anti-camera vote frequently reached between 60 and 86 percent.
The skewed results are not surprising considering the direct financial interest IIHS has in expanding the use of traffic cameras. The Insurance Institute represents the interests of all the major automobile insurance firms from AAA and Geico to State Farm and Allstate. The organization describes its mission as “highway safety research and communications” with the latter mission referring to public relations. Each time a photo ticket is issued in California, Arizona or Illinois (freeway program only), points are assigned to the license of the vehicle owner. Those points give insurance companies the ability to raise the rates for the ticket recipient by anywhere from $50 a year to $500 or more. Since the extra premium does not reflect any additional service rendered, it adds hundreds of millions to the industry’s bottom line each year.
Posted: 02 Feb 2011 01:35 AM PST
“Attempts were made to obtain historical information on the number of red light cameras in the study cities, but information on the scope of red light programs could not be obtained for many of the cities,” the IIHS study explained (page 9).
By comparison, a 2005 study by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) gathered data from fifteen cities that used automated enforcement. The study’s final results excluded eight of these locations because it was not possible to obtain complete accident reports, signal timing data, traffic flow numbers and other variables — twenty-eight in total. While the FHWA study suffered from its own methodological flaws, the government agency considered reporting results without detailed data to be unscientific.
“Exposure is the major determinant of intersection crashes,” the FHWA study explained. “Therefore, it is important to account for any changes between the before and after period, particularly if these changes are triggered by the measure. All studies reviewed have failed to do this accounting, conveniently assuming that red light cameras will not change exposure.”
IIHS did not bother gathering data regarding any of the factors FHWA considered essential, aside from looking up 1990 and 2000 population figures. In fact, the insurance industry relied upon the eight-year gap between the “before” and “after” periods to obtain the desired result. In locations like Chandler, Arizona the community went through significant changes — including the building of the Loop 101 and Loop 202 freeways — during this time. These new routes drew traffic away from intersections during the “after” period despite the increase in population. Without accounting for the change in traffic volumes, the figures would be misleading. Chandler accounted for the greatest decrease in citywide accidents in the IIHS report. IIHS not knowing which locations in the city had cameras could not check whether there was a difference between camera and non-camera locations.
A professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago did check and determined last year that there was no statistical difference before and after the cameras were installed in the Windy City. The data refuted the IIHS assumption that there is a so-called “spillover” or “halo” effect that spreads good driving habits throughout the photo-enforced jurisdiction. Between 2001 and 2008, use of cameras had no effect on the percentage of accidents that took place at intersections — the figure remained steady at about 25 percent (view report). IIHS claimed big accident reductions in Chicago, and in Baltimore, Maryland. The latter city last month reported inconclusive results from its photo ticketing program.
“Six of the 15 locations had more traffic accidents in 2010 compared to prior years, and eight of the 15 locations had fewer traffic accidents in 2010 compared to prior years,” the Baltimore County report explained. “One location had the same number of traffic accidents.”
As mentioned in Part One of this analysis of the IIHS report, the Insurance Institute is primarily the public relations arm of the automobile insurers that rely upon ticketing programs to increase annual premiums. Anne T. McCartt, senior vice president for research, was one of the three researchers who coauthored the report. Her doctorate is not in engineering but from the Rockefeller School of Public Affairs, which offers degrees only in public administration or politics — the perfect preparation for a career in manipulating the media to advance public policy.
A copy of the IIHS report is available in a 500k PDF file at the source link below. Source