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Data shows mixed results from Longview red-light cameras

By Richard Yeakley
April 13, 2013 at 11 p.m.

Red-light traffic cameras across Longview have not led to a noticeable decline in wrecks at the intersections where they are posted, data shows.

Though city officials have pointed to a 33 percent reduction in all wrecks across the city as a result of the cameras, an examination of data on wrecks at intersections with the red-light cameras found limited changes from the year before to the year after cameras were installed.

"From the perspective of traffic enforcement, it is to increase traffic safety, to reduce the number of wrecks and reduce the severity of wrecks that do occur," said traffic Sgt. Buddy Molpus. "I am not going to try to compare years before that to now. ... I am not comfortable with doing that. I do know that wrecks throughout the city have declined over the past several years, and that includes intersection crashes, so I feel like it has had some positive effect."

Individual red-light cameras, which issued tickets that led to the collection of nearly $1 million in fiscal year 2011-12, show varied effectiveness in limiting wrecks, according to data kept by the Longview Police Department.

For instance, the camera at the intersection of West Marshall Avenue and H.G. Mosley Parkway, which was installed in November 2007 and issued almost 1,000 citations in fiscal year 2011-12, was a factor in the decrease of collisions at the intersection.

The year before the camera's installation, the intersection was the site of 18 wrecks, including 10 that were directly related to a red-light infraction, according to police data.

The year after the camera's installation, the number of wrecks decreased to five, with three being red-light related.

However, across town, at the intersection of Cotton Street and Mobberly Avenue, the installation of a red-light camera occurred before a spike in crashes.

The year before a camera's installation in July 2007, the intersection had two wrecks. Both were red-light related. However, the intersection was the site of eight wrecks in 2008. Four of those were related to red light infractions.

Across the city, in fact, total crashes at intersections with a red-light camera increased by 34 percent the year after a camera was installed compared with the year before.

There were 86 wrecks at intersections with red-light cameras the year after cameras were installed. That compares with 64 wrecks the year before, according to Longview police data.

However, the number of red-light-related wrecks, which specifically involve a vehicle in the intersection when a light is red, decreased 30 percent - from 23 to 16 - at the intersections for which information is available.

Molpus said the cameras may even increase the incidence of some minor wrecks, but help prevent the more dangerous collisions.

"So, sometimes because of the red-light cameras, that could cause numbers for the wrecks around that intersection to increase, but it's not because of people running red-lights, but people doing what they were supposed to do and stop for the light and the person behind them was violating a completely different law by following too close," he said. "(Those are ) typically much less severe than the right-angle collisions that occur from somebody running a red light."

But for intersections for which wreck information was available, the number of right-angle collisions held steady before and after camera installation.

Longview's red-light cameras are operating under contract with Redflex Traffic Systems a Phoenix-based company.

The city maintains 11 lights where the cameras monitor red-light violations and issue citations. Cost for the red-light fine, of which 20,338 citations were issued in Longview during the past fiscal year, can reach as high as about $200.

The contract with Redflex Traffic Systems continues until May 2015, when the city will once again consider the cameras' use.

After years in a "cost-neutrality" agreement with the company to cover its costs, Longview police planner Vivian Montgomery said the city is profiting from citations issued.

Now that the Photo Enforcement Program has exited the cost neutrality period, 50 percent of the proceeds will go to the Texas State Comptroller's Office to help fund the Regional Trauma Account. The remainder, after equipment rental fees are paid to Redflex, will be placed in a special city of Longview account. Those funds will pay for pedestrian and public safety programs, intersection improvements and traffic enforcement, said Longview police spokeswoman Kristie Brian.

Despite the numbers, Molpus said the fact the overall number of wrecks across the city had declined 33 percent since 2006 was directly related to the presence of the cameras.

"Say the crashes did go up at some at these intersections, you can't count what doesn't happen. If a wreck is prevented, you can't count that. What would it have been if you hadn't had the cameras with the increase of traffic? What if you get out of the program and now your wrecks go back up? If our speed-related crashes go down, should we stop doing speed enforcement? I don't think so," he said. "I talk to people all the time, and they think that every one in town has a camera. ... It has an effect throughout the city, and not just at those intersections, and I am convinced of that myself."

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