A recent report regarding Wilmington's red light camera enforcement program failed to capture the full picture, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic.
The auto club, which made the request for the account in late 2014, issued a statement in November responding to the city's findings in the report--the first of its kind since the program's inception in 2001.
"The reason for installing red light cameras should be improving safety, not generating revenue," stated Cathy Rossi, Vice President of Government and Public Affairs. "While the city has worked to understand the criteria that AAA believes best serves the public interest, the report falls short and raises concerns about the lack of crash data analysis and possible intersection improvements that may negate the need for red light cameras."
AAA Mid-Atlantic's Director of Government and Public Affairs Jim Lardear told Road Scholar, the primary grievance with the report is what doesn't appear there.
"We wanted to see more data," Lardear explained. "We wanted to see crash data broken down by crash type. Not every crash at an intersection is red light-running related. We were more hopeful to see that the focus was specifically on tracking crash data, and that way it ensures for us, as well as the public, that the program is being done for traffic safety purposes."
AAA recommended that, since the purpose of automated enforcement is to change drivers' behavior, the statistics cited should include a diligent amount of analysis.
"Most traffic safety experts would say that the (red light) camera is a program of last resort," Lardear concluded. "You need to understand what's happening at that intersection. You need to study what the problem is. Is it straight-through violations? Is it rear end crashes? Is it the T-bone, the most violent, dangerous crash? Is it a problem with the approach? Can people see the signals? Can they recognize the signals? Are the signals timed properly? Can some paint and striping help motorists know when to stop so they're not violating the intersection or crosswalk? There's a lot of things you can do to understand what the problem is before you put a camera there."
One illustration of an engineering improvement solving an existing problem at a red light camera location was referenced in the city's own press release announcing their report. Using feedback from motorists, changes were made the stop bar location in the southbound lanes of the Concord Avenue and Broom Street intersection. The city determined, in coordination with the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) and its Public Works Department, it would move the right turn lane stop bar closer to the corner so that drivers would not be required to stop twice at that crossing before making the right turn on red.
"The stop bar had been further back from the intersection," Lardear recounted. "So it was not intuitive for the drivers that it was appropriate to stop there as opposed to further up where you could actually see the intersection. That's something where they (the city) stepped back, heard the concerns, and they fixed it. That's how these programs should operate."
The very enforcement of right-turn-on-red laws has also become a problem for the city. AAA Mid-Atlantic advised that Wilmington is the only Delaware jurisdiction to use cameras for enforcement even though it's permitted at many intersections following a complete stop, except when prohibited by a posted sign or a steady red arrow is displayed. Another AAA Mid-Atlantic territory, Washington D.C., reported that, between 2010 and 2012, just 39 of a total of 100,000 crashes involved a right-turn-on-red maneuver. Lardear suggested that, due to this unique and relatively unwarranted restriction, this is how Wilmington's intentions for the program are called into question.
"It's a negligible cause of crashes," he acknowledged. "Our concern is that, if there's not a safety problem, you've just added something to basically collect revenue from motorists. We're not saying that it's okay to make a right turn on red without coming to a full and complete stop. We just don't want these systems to be predatory."
AAA Mid-Atlantic is hopeful that, just as DelDOT has reported annually since its own red light program started in 2004, Wilmington will continue to forward issue more detailed crash data analysis.
"We want to work with them to be able to provide this information that would give us, as well as motorists, confidence in the program. That's what the goal is."