COLLIER COUNTY, Fla. - An explosive Call for Action investigation concerning the controversial red light cameras in Collier County has one Collier County commissioner ready to pull the plug!
Collier County paid 1.1 million dollars for red light cameras to keep Collier roads safe. After the cameras were first installed, there was public outcry because cameras initially made a profit. However, commissioners rewrote the contract so the county doesn't make a dime off the cameras. They commission hoped that would send the message these cameras are for safety not profit.
"The whole intent of the Collier County commission was health, safety and welfare," Commissioner Jim Colleta told WINK NEWS about the decision to install red lights in 2008. In 2009, the cameras went up and tickets were sent to people running red lights all in the name of keeping you safe.
However, some people believe those cameras may not make a difference in safety at all.
"Red light cameras are not about traffic safety in the least," John Bowman with the National Motorist Association told WINK NEWS, "And they are about revenue generation for the municipalities as well as for the camera company"
Bowman says the failing economy strapped city and county budget so government leaders started looking for ways to generate revenue.
Red lights cameras seemed like an easy way to do that.
"This is millions of dollars potentially to a city and to the camera companies," said Bowman, "Some individual cameras depending on the busyness of the intersection can generate upwards of 4 to 5 million dollars a year per camera."
Bowman says red light cameras haven't made the same gains in safety, "The research simply doesn't show that cameras are effective. In fact in many cases, and in some well documented ones, the presence of red light cameras will actually increase the number of accident at intersections. So they don't really performed as promised."
WINK NEWS wanted to know if this was true so Call for Action pulled five years worth of accident data from Collier County. Those documents included the completely list of Collier County fatalities from 2007-2011, a list of all crashes caused by red light running at all intersections in the county from 2007-September 2011, a list of crashes at red light intersections from 2007-June 30, 2011. These were the most current statistics the Collier County sheriff's office told us they could provide us.
(Note: Because the Collier Sheriff's Office did not have final data for the last three months of 2011, we only compared numbers from the first nine months of each year. A statistician with FGCU told us that is the most accurate way to compare numbers.)
We found no consistent downward trend of the number of accidents at red light camera intersections since they were installed.
From 2007 to 2009 (before the cameras went in), the number of crashes caused by someone running a red light was already on the decline.
These are the statistics of accidents caused by red light runners from all of the intersections in Collier County before the cameras were installed:
2009--60 accidents then down again to 60 in 2009.
However, the year after the cameras were installed that number increased:
When we looked specifically at intersections monitored by red light cameras, here's what we found:
We also found that from 2007 to 2011, fatality accidents remained relatively unchanged:
We consulted a statistician from FGCU to check our work who told us there is no statistical significance before and after the cameras were put in place.
We took those findings to Collier County commisioner Jim Colleta.
"The statistics I've seen today are interesting. I can't see too much of a change from one time to another. However, statistical data is one of those things I can't claim to be an expert on. This evaluation and the numbers we got, need to be run through transportation to be able to see how they work out," Colleta told us after reviewing the statistics.
At Commissioner Colleta's request, we gave our stats to the traffic department so they could review them. Over the phone, they told us they are performing an audit and they have come to their own conclusion using similar statistics: There is not really a difference before and after the cameras were installed.
However, when we requested to interview those staff members on camera to share with you in our report, a spokesman told us we would not be allowed.
But Commissioner Colleta was able to comment on camera, "I've got to compliment WINK NEWS for being so thorough in the report that they did. When they first came to me with the statistical data that they did, I was very skeptical.
Commissioner Colleta told us he is looking forward to the traffic department bringing that report to the commission, "My recommendation is going to be that when it comes back for consideration that we not continue the program."
The spokesman for Collier County government referred us to the Sheriff who originally proposed the idea. A Collier County sheriff's spokeswoman told us by phone that the sheriff remains a proponent of red light cameras as a safety measure.
The transportation department's audit should go before the Collier Commission in the coming weeks, where Coletta says he will recommend they terminate the program.
We contacted American Traffic Solutions, the provider of red light cameras who has contracted with Collier County. They strenuously disagreed with our methodology and statistics and provided us this statement:
"Red-light safety cameras have proven to save lives and reduce collisions, injuries and fatalities by changing driver behavior. Since it start Collier County's program has seen a reduction in violations and subsequent reduction in crashes at red-light camera intersections. According to the data provided, in the 29 months prior to the cameras being installed there were 46 crashes at red-light safety camera intersections. In the 27 months since installation began there has been only 26 crashes for a 39 percent reduction." Charles Territo , V.P. of Communications
Collier County Spokeswoman Connie Deane provided us this statement:
"We have reviewed the crash data from the Sheriff's Office as well as from the Florida Highway Patrol for the past few years to determine the effectiveness of the Red Light Camera Enforcement Program since the Sheriff presented the program and the Board of County Commissioners subsequently initiated the Red Light Camera Enforcement Program and have found the data to be inconclusive. The data has neither supported nor refuted the effectiveness of the Red Light Camera Enforcement Program. In our opinion, there is no statistical significance. Over the past several years the crashes on our streets and highways in Collier County have decreased and the Red Light Camera Enforcement Program is but one tool that is used to enhance the safety of our streets and highways. The results may be more anecdotal with the Sheriff's Office and the traveling public telling us that the Red Light Camera Enforcement Program has made them more aware of the need to stop when traffic signals turn red regardless of whether or not the intersections have red light cameras. If this change in behavior is the result, then the program is effective."