More Photo-enforcement in the WSJ

On the heels of last weeks “front pager” — Jenkins thows in his two cents in today’s column The War on Short Yellows. His punditry is undoubtedly astute: “One Arizona sheriff recently proved you could get elected by opposing speed cameras”. He should have stopped there, since his analysis of safety is lacking. Firstly, he either doesn’t know, or doesn’t let on, the scope of the problem. To put it simply, traffic collisions are the leading cause of unnatural death for all Americans (link to reference here)… this is a huge problem.

And the problem is even worse in Arizona; something he either doesn’t know or doesn’t care about. Arizona rates (even after some fairly large improvements in recent years) far above US averages in both per capita fatalities, and fatalities per 100M VMT. So it should probably come as no surprise that the authorities in Arizona are trying out things like photo-enforcement. Which he, reflexively, believes is basically a jack-booted government gone wild.

He goes with the typical cannard — that supposedly the collisions prevented represent only a small fraction of all collisions. His exact stat was “Consider: Red-light running and speeding, the two main uses of traffic cameras, are implicated in fewer than 8% of accidents”.  He doesn’t reveal a source (possibly a talking point from the NMA?), I’m guessing it is 3% + 5%, and also guessing it’s the national causastion survey. In any event, the weakness is that these collisions are far more freqently fatal. Arizona has a particularly high fatal red-light running rate.

He even brings up Britian, yet he either doesn’t know, or doesn’t let on that Britian experienced a precitious decline in fatality rates through the 1990’s — coincident with the rise in photo-enforcement. Are the two related? One wonders, but Jenkins apparently doesn’t care or wonder. By the way, fatality rates are far below US rates (both per capita, and per VMT).

His solution? lengthen yellow lights. This would undoubtedly reduce violations. But unless the yellow is “short” (shorter than engineering standards) there’s no indication this would reduce collisions, though. And as to the other ten’s of thousands of deaths annually? Well he doesn’t even have a suggestion for that.