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Federal Reports Documents Nationwide Photo Enforcement Decline
Flawed state reports on photo enforcement document the decline in automated ticketing around the nation.

IIHS red light camera map
Most states resisted the new federal effort to increase transparency by releasing accident and revenue data related to the use of red light cameras and speed cameras (view story). Instead of producing "adequate data" as the law requires, states handed in surveys containing little information.

Despite its limitations, the effort highlighted significant inaccuracies in existing automated enforcement program data. According to the state-submitted reports, 294 cities use red light cameras or speed cameras -- a number closer to 334 after adding in the cities withheld from the reports submitted by California and Ohio transportation officials. This is a far lower figure than the commonly cited Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) count of 423 jurisdictions using cameras. Illinois highlighted the shortcomings of the insurance industry's data.

"Out of the 69 IIHS communities with red light cameras, only 59 jurisdictions reported to Illinois DOT indicating that they had red light cameras in their communities," the Illinois report explained. "A total of ten of the 69 IIHS communities reported that they had no red light cameras. Further, our sample includes eight additional jurisdictions, not identified in the IIHS database, with red light cameras in their communities."

The insurance industry has a financial interest in overstating the acceptance of photo enforcement. In California and Arizona, every photo ticket issued can be used to increase insurance premiums, generating millions in extra revenue for the parent companies of IIHS.

Update:Oklahoma's report to the US Department of Transportation incorrectly identified Enid as using speed cameras. Oklahoma paid University of Oklahoma researchers to conduct a telephone poll of 473 cities within the state to discover which of them used speed cameras or red light cameras, even though such devices are not authorized under state law. Enid officials told the pollsters that information regarding the number of citations issued by the program is "publicly available," but there is no information available online about Enid's camera program.

Missouri and New Mexico likewise have only one city using automated ticketing machines. Missouri's report included copies of the state Supreme Court decisions that have left Hannibal as the lone outpost using red light cameras. New Mexico, by contrast, provided a sheet with handwritten checkbox responses from Rio Rancho on the state's final speed camera program. North Carolina also reported a significant decline in the use of cameras.

"While some municipalities abandoned their red light cameras due to public pressure, other cities in North Carolina discontinued their programs following a decision by the North Carolina Court of Appeals in 2005," the state reported. "This decision found that the North Carolina Constitution required that the revenue collected from these systems must be used exclusively to maintain public schools, except for a maximum of 10 percent of the fines collected that can be used for the cost accrued to operate the system. This decision meant some of the contracts municipalities had with the private companies, who operated the cameras for more than a 10 percent share of the collected fines, financially unreasonable and the programs were quickly shut down."

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