The Department of Highway Safety & Motor Vehicles (DHSMV) has published a document called “Traffic Crash Facts” (TCF) since at least 1994. The publication listed all sorts of data about crashes in Florida, one of which was what caused them. That changed in 2011 when the data placed online was very limited.
The cause of crashes is key when assessing the effectiveness of things such as red light cameras (RLC). If you believe most local officials using them, they are only installed for safety. Ultimate safety is not having anyone run a red light and cause a crash. The worst type of these crashes are when someone dies, so the best evidence of their effectiveness is the amount of fatal crashes caused by a red light violation (RLV).
When you look at the TCF reports for the past several years, you can determine trends in crashes. In the past several years, the number of fatal crashes caused by a RLV were already declining, with 53 in 2010, down from 123 in 2006. In 2011, the first full year of legal RLC use in Florida, it was… well we didn’t know since the DHSMV didn’t release the data as they had done for so may years.
I’ve been working against the RLC program since 2011 for a number of reasons, be they legal or operational. It’s not because I’ve gotten a ticket. Unlike most people in Florida, due to my time as a trooper and traffic homicide investigator, I knew that the crashes caused by a RLV were mainly caused by two types of drivers- inattentive, and impaired, such as a DUI. I also realized placing a camera on a pole at roadside would not magically awaken or make sober these drivers.
One of the things I have never seen in the media is an actual number comparison of RLV crashes before and after automated for-profit device use. This led me to meet with the Department of Transportation (DOT) and get traffic crash data for the period of 2005-2011. I’ve used this data to disprove the effectiveness of the automated for-profit RLC scheme in Florida. I found in Tallahassee, for equal periods of time, there were 9 RLV crashes at the device intersections before they got a device, and 7 afterward. As a side note here, the state’s much-touted annual report on the devices lists no actual numbers- and no crashes caused by a RLV at all, and the three types of crashes they do list (rear end, angle, and total) are shown by percentage.
Since I had this data, it was fairly easy to pull the number of 2011 fatal crashes caused by a RLV. I did so, and not surprisingly they were higher than they had been in 2010. A lot higher, there were 72 of them, percentage wise about 36% higher. This is a black eye for the RLC program.
I found the DHSMV Director Jones had written a letter in November 2012, stating a portal would be online for 24/7 public access in the spring of 2013. Since it was now Summer/August, I sent an e-mail to the address listed in the letter, and was referred to Crash Records Supervisor Nell Owens. Ms. Owens referred me to a website that required a log in (and of course DHSMV approval to do so). I learned after reading the user agreement the data could not be shared.
I replied to Ms. Owens with my concerns over the situation, and several highlighted portions of the public records laws of Florida. I also advised the response was unacceptable and that I would be filing a complaint with the Attorney General.
Within a couple of days Ms. Owens emailed me and apologized, advising the DHSMV would within a week or so make the crash data publicly accessible as it had been.
You can fight city hall- or the DHSMV. You simply have to stand your ground and know the law. I’m fortunate that the state trained me to be a good investigator and to dig for the truth. It’s a shame I must now use these skills against the state and other local governments that have become corrupted by the red light camera scheme.