Yesterday, City's Red Light Commission Realized How High the Price of Safety

Dallas's red light cameras came under scrutiny yesterday during a meeting of the city's Automated Red Light Enforcement Commission, where commissioners wrestled with the concept of spending a lot to make a little. As in: The installation of the 66 cameras in 2007 -- and their maintenance since then, not to mention the salaries that go along with operating all of it -- cost the city more than $6 million each year. And the return on that investment? A mere $1.35 million.

And since a Texas law enacted also in 2007 requires that the city split this revenue with the state, the city takes home just $676,753.

The meeting at Dallas City Hall on Tuesday included seven of the 10 members of the enforcement commission. Three Public Works and Transportation employees charged with running the city's Safe Light Program fielded the questions and provided the data.

One commission member, Steve Rosato, expressed his concerned that the city council may have approved the pricey program without understanding the expense. "Was this presented to city council as spending $6 million to make $1.3 million?" Rosato asked.

Public Works and Transportation Assistant Director John Brunk answered by tempering the group's monetary concerns with real safety benefits.

"This is mainly a safety program," said Brunk.

Rosato nodded, as if finally remembering the point of the program. The tone for the remainder of the meeting shifted as another Public Works employee, Elizabeth Ramirez, chief engineer of the program, provided safety-related statistics to the group.

On average, she said, 30 percent of the 5,000 accidents at traffic signals each year are related to drivers running a red light. Since the cameras were installed in 2007, there has been a 62 percent reduction in red-light related accidents on intersection approaches with a camera. And, a 30 percent reduction in accidents of all types at intersections with red light cameras.

Some other interesting tidbits from the meeting:

  • From April 2008 to April 2009, the red light cameras captured 934,427 events. But only 134,998 citations were actually mailed. A company contracted by the city has each event reviewed by a violation processing specialists. Most are dismissed because "no violation occurred," probably because a car slammed on the brakes at the last minute.
  • The city is policing itself when it comes to monitoring department employees running red lights. Not surprisingly, Dallas Police Department cops run the most red lights. But each citation is investigated just in case a cop is faking an emergency to avoid stopping. Only three cops have run a red light for no reason on two repeated occasions.
  • The Mayor's office has one violation for $100 ($75 ticket plus $25 late fee). The city will only say that it wasn't the mayor but somebody from his office.

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