Wilmington red light camera update

Big Brother's watchingSix years ago (!), I wrote about the red light camera program in Wilmington, Delaware. If you skim through that post, you will note that this program began in Wilmington in 2001, and has expanded several times since then. Like most of the approximately 300 jurisdictions that Wilmington’s contractor serves, Wilmington operates its cameras in ways that are not driven by safety data, but rather by violation tallies, as this maximizes revenue generation. Also, it is worth recalling that Wilmington does not dedicate the funds it collects from these cameras to safety issues, or even to police activities, but rather funnels these monies into the general fund.

The Wilmington News Journal, our limp and usually fawning Gannett-owned hometown paper, managed to write a useful update about the red light camera program recently, so my sincere thanks to reporter Melissa Nann Burke for slipping this story past her editors.

One interesting fact from this piece is the statistic that red light cameras have not reduced the number of crashes in the intersections where they are located, but they do seem to reduce the severity of the crashes. A smaller proportion of accidents take place within the intersection, and have been replaced with rear-end crashes in the lanes approaching the intersection. While this is clearly better than the situation before the cameras, it is not a ringing endorsement.

Delaware is home to two separate programs of camera enforcement – the city’s program and the state’s. DelDOT runs the state effort, and counted 39,068 violations in 2013, at 30 locations, averaging 107 per day statewide and 3.6 per location per day. It turns out the state has not moved or added any cameras in sometime, and is waiting for the current contract with ATS to expire in June 2014 before doing so. Burke’s article suggests no new cameras will appear until early 2015.

The mayor of the city of Wilmington has suggested adding ten cameras in the coming fiscal year. Burke rightfully notes that the American Automobile Association criticizes the placement methodology used by Wilmington, as it is driven more by revenue generation than by safety considerations. The article does not provide a figure for how much money is raised by the cameras in Wilmington.

It would be very interesting if the city and DelDOT were to release the raw data on a location-by-location basis so that some independent analysis of how effective these cameras have been, and their full impact on the safety of our region. It is hard not to conclude the city camera installations are seen primarily as revenue generation devices, and as long as that is the case, they will not be used to their best effect for the public good.