Exclusive: Accidents way up with red light cameras off

June 8, 2011 4:29:17 PM PDT
Back in November, Houstonians voted to turn off red light cameras at dozens of intersections. Now we're getting a look at new figures on accidents in those areas and they paint a different picture than previous data.

This is the debate that just won't die. There was a set of statistics a few months ago that showed accidents were down after the cameras were turned off, but now new data suggests they're way up.

There are three intersections across the city where accidents are up more than 400 percent -- Wayside at I-45 is up 700 percent; I-10 at Uvalde is up 700 percent; and the worst increase is at West Road and I-45 where accidents are up 1,300 percent.

There are likely few people who know more about what goes on at the corner of West Road and the North Freeway than Terry Collins. He works this corner three days a week. And when we asked him how often he sees accidents, Collins replied, "Three days a week."

Ever since these red light cameras turned off in November, Collins noticed something.

"Constantly. Since they shut off the red light cameras -- running them all the time," said Collins.

And it seems he's right. ATS, the company that owns the red light cameras, asked HPD to pull accident statistics for all 50 camera intersections in Houston. When HPD compared six months without the cameras to the same time period a year earlier with the cameras on, accidents are way up -- 137 percent more accidents citywide.

"It doesn't surprise me at all," Collins said.

It's an increase of 366 accidents. People were hurt in 200 of them. That's a 350 percent increase.

Since that city election forced Houston to turn the red light cameras off, HPD can't write any tickets for people caught on camera running the red light. What they can do is cleverly park an empty squad car at these dangerous intersections. There's no police officer inside the car, and no police officer nearby, but HPD hopes just seeing the parked squad car will make you think twice about running it.

HPD Assistant Chief Brian Lumpkin is in charge of traffic enforcement. He liked the cameras and is not trying to turn them back on, but he says we were safer and he was more effective with them.

"We've gotta do more with less and cameras allow us to do more with less. So if that's really our goal -- our goal is to be as efficient as we possible can with every dollar we're given in our budget -- then the cameras are a great tool," said Lumpkin.

"The public has already resolved the safety issue and they voted out the cameras," said Paul Kubosh, a red light camera opponent.

Houston attorney Paul Kubosh led the fight against the cameras and he doesn't believe this new data at all.

"What this is is nothing more than a carefully orchestrated plan by ATS, the city of Houston and the mayor to prep the public for the eventual cameras coming back," said Kubosh.

He is nervous how this whole thing will turn out in federal court. The election to turn the cameras off and the city contract with the camera company is still in federal court. It's been there for seven months. There is still no ruling on how much the city will pay to get out of the deal.


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