Traffic Safety Header

October 2011 

It's a fact: Traffic cameras cut crashes

By Rob Woutat  


The issue of red light cameras is still simmering, but the only significant issue left, it seems, is whether use of the cameras should be decided by the voters.


If you'll accept data from Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the Highway Loss Data Institute, there's no question about the efficacy of the cameras to decrease collisions and fatalities.


The IIHS is an independent, nonprofit, scientific, and educational organization dedicated to reducing the losses - deaths, injuries, and property damage - from crashes on the nation's highways. The HLDI conducts scientific studies of insurance data representing the human and economic losses resulting from the ownership and operation of different types of vehicles and by publishing insurance loss results by vehicle make and model.


In a study of five major intersections in Fairfax, VA, for example, they found that before the use of red light cameras, motorists ran a red light every 20 minutes at each intersection. The occurrence was higher during peak travel times. In four other states, 1,775 violations occurred over 554 hours, an average rate of 3.2 per hour per intersection. For more specifics, go to:


In a 2010 telephone survey by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, while 93 percent of drivers said it's unacceptable to go through a red light if it's possible to stop safely, one-third reported doing so in the past 30 days.


Red light runners are more likely to be younger drivers, less likely to use seat belts, had poorer driving records, are more than three times as likely to have had multiple speeding convictions than drivers who didn't run red lights, are more likely to have been drinking or speeding, and are less likely to have valid driver's licenses.


They may also tend to offer peculiar reasons for their infractions, like these given to Washington State Patrol officers when asked why they were speeding:


"I'm taking my friend to the hospital. He has alcohol poisoning." (The driver was drunk, too).


After crashing: "I put premium gas in the car, which caused me to lose control." (He was drunk, too.)


"I have been drinking and want to get off the road quickly."


"I am wearing really heavy shoes today and they make the gas pedal go down more."


"I just got my license back from it being suspended and I am not used to driving."


Yes, red light cameras do cause more rear-end collisions, some studies report, but the IIHS found that rear end collisions are usually less severe than front-into-side collisions, so the net effect is positive.


What about lengthening the time a light is yellow? Would that result in fewer violations? Yes, according to a Philadelphia study; a longer yellow light reduced violations by 36 percent, but adding red light enforcement reduced red light running by an additional 96 percent.


What about the argument that traffic enforcement cameras represent the Big Brother government spying on us? Driving is not a private activity; it's public behavior with the potential of injuring others. As the IIHS puts it, "Neither the law nor common sense suggests drivers should not be observed on the road or have their violations documented."


But the cameras in Bremerton come from out of state, some say, and besides, they're just used to make money for the city. The former point is irrelevant. As to the second, the "cash cow" argument that the cameras are just a sneaky way to tax people (the Tim Eyman argument), fines are a basic part of all traffic enforcement policies, not just the cameras.


Earlier this year, speaking to the Washington State Transportation Commission, Eyman made this peculiar argument against the cameras: " the more people violate the law, the more money (the cameras) make."


One has to ask how this is a bad thing.


And as a police officer said at the hearing, "When I'm sitting at the corner on a police motorcycle and I see this violation occur, would I write the ticket? If the answer is 'yes', then whether it's enforced via a camera or my personal presence shouldn't matter."


According to IIHS, in 14 big cities with long-standing red light cameras, two thirds of drivers support their use. In a 2002 survey sponsored by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the favorable response was 75 percent.


© 2011 Scripps Newspaper Group - Online

New data analysis may target hot spots for Collier deputies to be visible - POLL



NAPLES - Ever since thieves ransacked two company vehicles this summer, swiping about $13,000 in equipment, crime prevention has become a priority at Jones Air Conditioning and Electric.


The East Naples company's staff soon might be getting more help from the Collier County Sheriff's Office and a new computer program spreading across the nation.


Sheriff's officials are working to install the Data-Driven Approaches to Crime and Traffic Safety, or DDACTS, program, a federally sponsored system that overlays crime and traffic mapping data to show hot spots.


The program, which is expected to start later this month, already has identified three areas where increased police visibility could be used, including the East Naples Industrial Park home to Jones Air Conditioning and Electric.


"For them to implement something like this would be great," said Jose Ochoa, marketing director for the air conditioning business. "The economy is horrible and crime rates are going up, so it would be a big help."


The theory behind DDACTS is simple: Areas with high crime rates also tend to have high traffic crash rates. Map out where those areas are, then put more deputies in them during targeted times. The increased visibility deters crime and leads to more efficient traffic stops of reckless, drunken or criminal drivers.


"With the right interpretations, it gives us the ability to focus and say, 'Here's the area where we need to be at a given time of the day or week,' rather than just scattering resources throughout the county," Collier County Sheriff Kevin Rambosk said.


The execution of DDACTS can be complicated. Sheriff's officials have been working for about a year to compile and interpret the data. Some fender-benders and minor traffic crashes can be factored out, and mapping analysts look at crime trends to identify areas with high or rising rates. Three years of crime and traffic data were used for most of the initial mapping.


Collier sheriff's Chief Jim Bloom said three early target spots have been found: the East Naples Industrial Park, areas near Immokalee and Vanderbilt roads east of I-75, and the Airport-Pulling and Pine Ridge road corridor, which was most noticeable.


"We knew we had some burglaries, both vehicular and structure in that area, but when you start putting the crashes over the top of that, it stands out like a neon sign," Bloom said. "We had no idea we had so many accidents in there. It was good that it was brought to our attention and we can hopefully lower our crash rate and combat crime at the same time."


A national approach

About 200 agencies nationally have a DDACTS system or are installing one. The agencies have varied in size, ranging from Lafourche Parish, La., one of the first to use DDACTS, with about 100,000 residents, to large areas such as Baltimore and Nashville, Tenn.


Federal officials believe DDACTS can work in any area, and Lafourche Parish sheriff's officials have been pleased with the results.


Most notably, data drove the parish's deputies to target drunken driving enforcement from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m., rather than later at night. Drunken driving arrests more than doubled, and traffic fatalities in the parish dropped from 30 in 2008 to 21 or fewer each year since.


"It's the best use of resources," Lafourche Parish sheriff's Capt. J.P. DeGravelles said. "You're not reacting to what you think something may be. We're actually reacting to what the facts are."

While researchers believe in the connection between crime and traffic crash rates, the reasoning is often debated.


"Law enforcement has long been aware that where a concentration of crime exists crashes often tend to concentrate as well. To date, no research adequately explains this phenomenon," Ronald E. Wilson, a mapping and analysis manager for the National Institute of Justice, wrote last year in the journal Geography and Public Safety.


Rambosk said he didn't fully agree with that, though he added no data supports his contention.

"I've seen a part of that report, and again, with crime and traffic safety, what we're hoping to find out is if there is a correlation between the two and does this help us to reduce activities in these areas," Rambosk said. "If it does, we'll be able to show it."


Deputies in motion

Rambosk said deputies could start targeted enforcement in mid-September.


No overtime will be needed and the startup costs for starting DDACTS were less than $1,000, not counting time spent by staff already in place.


Deputies won't be reassigned to different areas, but rather will make themselves more visible in hot spots. That could mean more traffic stops, more time spent checking in with local business owners, or deputies doing paperwork in high traffic areas. Deputy discretion will be emphasized.


"We're not looking at totally readjusting or pulling people out of areas," Bloom said. "This is just asking the general agency: when you're going somewhere or you have some down time, concentrate on these areas."


Other agencies with DDACTS haven't seen criminals moving from hot spots to other areas with less patrol, and Bloom said it isn't expected here.


"You can always push crime. There's no bones around it," Bloom said. "If we see another spike in another area, maybe we've pushed it to one from another and we'll have to readjust."


Collier County officials have committed to the program for at least six months, though results haven't always been immediate for other agencies.


In Lafourche Parish, crime fell 0.7 percent more in DDACTS enforcement areas during the first six months compared to non-enforcement areas. In that time, crashes fell 12.8 percent in hot spots but dropped 14 percent in non-hot spots.


Still, most agencies have seen positive results from DDACTS and stuck with it.


"In six months, if we find out it's not making any difference, then we'll look at alternative ways to keep moving forward," Rambosk said. "If it does work, we'll look at how we broaden it."


 © 2011 Scripps Newspaper Group - Online

Fighting Crime in an Era of Belt-Tightening

By Matt Stroud


Partnering with criminologists from George Mason University, a team led by Sacramento Police Sergeant Renée Mitchell identified 42 "hotspots"-street corners that attracted the highest percentages of violent crime in California's second most violent city.


As part of a 90-day study conducted between February and May this year, Mitchell and her team assigned officers to visit a randomized rotation of three or four of these hotspots for 12 to 16 minutes apiece during shifts. That meant police would inhabit Sacramento's most dangerous corners about every two hours. The officers were told to be "highly visible" during these visits-to step outside patrol cars, to talk with people.


This was a change for Sacramento police. It focused on places to target rather than specific crimes, and relied on data rather than police instinct. The results, Mitchell says, were striking.

"Part I" crimes-which include violent offenses such as murder, rape and robbery, as well as property crimes such as burglary and vehicle theft-decreased by 25 percent in these hotspots. Calls for service decreased by nearly 8 percent. And these successes cost the city only $75,000, Mitchell says, less than one percent of the Sacramento Police Department's $116 million annual budget this year.


"We've known for a long time that we were going to have to find ways to police more efficiently," she says. "Now we know we can do that without a spike in crime."


Policing layoffs and corresponding public safety concerns are seemingly everywhere.  


Sacramento took a hit in June when this year's budget funded 167 fewer police jobs than it did last year. Meanwhile, Oakland-California's most violent city - has eliminated 178 police jobs since 2008. And on the East Coast, Camden, New Jersey, the most prominent U.S. example of a high-crime city forced into major police cuts recently, eliminated half its force in January.  


Miami, Chicago, Cleveland, and even Toronto lately have similar concerns.


Is it possible to maintain-or decrease-crime rates as police budgets shrink?


A new report from the National Institute of Justice, "Strategic Cutback Management: Law Enforcement Leadership for Lean Times," offers a wide range of suggestions if cities want to answer "yes" to that question. Disband specialized police units, it advises. Encourage early retirement. Have police spend less time in idling patrol cars to save on gas. Spread budget cuts equally across departments. Move away from paper. And focus efforts: the study suggests police chiefs should ask themselves, "What are we doing?" "How do we do it?" "Why are we doing it that way?" And, "How could we do it differently if we were building the process from scratch today?"


Jerry Ratcliffe, a former London police officer who's conducted at least one hotspot study in Philadelphia similar to Mitchell's and serves as chair of Temple University's criminal justice department, says police need to be smarter about how they patrol.


"Data- and location-based policing is now essential," Ratcliffe says. "And police are going to have to be much clearer about proving their worth."


Politicians, voters and police need to confront hard truths about what police do well, Ratcliffe says, and they need to outsource or slash the excesses.


"We think about police in terms of crime but really they've become a social service," he says. "Either police will continue to do all the things they've evolved to do-such as overseeing sex offender and gun registries, for example, while also criminalizing drug use-and they're going to do them badly or they can concentrate on a few key tasks they can do very well, such as preventing and responding to violent crime."


Along those lines, Chuck Wexler, director of the Police Executive Research Forum in Washington, D.C., says consolidating police departments might also be a big part of focusing operations.


He cites Camden as an example of this. Camden has received federal aid to rehire some police officers, but there's been a recent, albeit controversial, push to merge City of Camden police with Camden County police.


He thinks this could serve as a nationwide model.


"Hotspots show that crime is centered in cities," he says. "So many regional and suburban police departments are going to feel pressure to merge with cities in the next three to five years."


Is that going to be an easy political sell? Of course not.


"But it represents the new normal," he says. "Things are going to change. Police are going to have to ask themselves, 'How do we deliver services at reduced costs?'"


That's a profoundly complicated question, says Sergeant Renée Mitchell. It forces police officers to worry about their jobs, it forces their bosses to change the way they think about patrolling streets and it forces politicians and voters to understand that a cop on every corner isn't realistic and huge numbers of arrests aren't always ideal.


"Arrests are glamorous," she says. "People want to see that guns and drugs are being taken off the streets. But that's reactive. We should be working to prevent. Our job is to reduce the opportunity for crime, not necessarily to patrol every street corner and make high-profile arrests. Sooner or later we're going to have to face that."

Operation Descansos: More than 600 DWI warrants cleared through multiagency effort

By Anne Constable | The New Mexican 


The battle against drunken driving in New Mexico is far from over, but saturation patrols, warrant roundups and DWI checkpoints are all having a positive impact on the problem, according to Michael R. Sandoval, the director of the state Department of Transportation's Traffic Safety Division.

Sandoval said Monday that he is renewing a $58,000 grant for Operation Descansos, a multiagency effort in Santa Fe County to arrest people with outstanding warrants for DWI - often in their homes before they get up in the morning. Most of the money covers overtime pay for police officers, sheriff's deputies and state police. The 2011 grant will include some additional funds for management and evaluation of the program, as well as printing door-hangers to advise offenders they've been paid a visit by law-enforcement agents.

"We see continued value in the project," Sandoval said, adding that the message is, "You can't just run and hide. We want people to be accountable."

Operation Descansos is a project of the state Department of Public Safety's Special Investigations Division, supported by the Santa Fe Underage Drinking Prevention Alliance, in collaboration with the Santa Fe Police Department and the Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office.

Since the program began in September 2010, 661 warrants have been cleared through arrests and surrenders.

The program is one of many funded by the $11 million to $14 million that the Department of Transportation receives annually from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for traffic-safety initiatives that reduce the number of crashes, injuries and deaths on the state's highways. About $2.3 million of that amount goes to 60 to 80 law-enforcement agencies in the state to cover the costs of various high-visibility enforcement actions.

The federal funding formula includes incentives for passing state laws like New Mexico's mandatory ignition interlock after the first drunken-driving conviction.

"They like our DWI laws," Sandoval said, adding that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is pushing all states to adopt mandatory interlocks. The state also gets funds based on seat-belt usage and DWI checkpoints.

In conjunction with the monthly warrant roundups, every quarter The Santa Fe New Mexican publishes photographs of DWI offenders who have outstanding warrants because they either bonded out of jail and didn't show up to face the charges against them, or failed to comply with the terms of their sentences for driving drunk. This list is the fourth such list published by the newspaper.

The purpose, Sandoval said, is to make people realize "they're looking for me, and I better take care of this," so that law enforcement doesn't have to expend resources looking for them.

Through this effort, as well as other education and enforcement actions, Sandoval said, he believes the culture around drinking and driving is changing. "Five or six years ago, people weren't talking about designated drivers," he said. "Now people aren't saying, 'Here's one for the road,' because they are expecting law enforcement to be out there at night."

Alcohol-related traffic fatalities are declining in New Mexico, he pointed out. In 2010, the number fell from 151 to 139, and he projects this year will end even lower, at 120 to 135, compared to more than 200 in 2004.

Although the overall trend also is downward in Santa Fe County, Cynthia Delgado of the Underage Drinking Prevention Alliance pointed out that the number of alcohol-related crashes increased 14 percent from January through July over the same period in 2010. And the number of arrests - 585 - is up 7 percent, she said.

Contact Anne Constable at 986-3022 or


661 Warrants cleared
210 Offenders who surrendered
449 Offenders arrested
2 Deaths identified
10 Number of warrant roundups since September 2010

Crime Stoppers offers a reward of up to $200 to anyone with information leading to the arrest of offenders with outstanding DWI warrants. So far, 12 arrests have been made from tips. Call 505-955-5050 with information on the whereabouts of fugitives

Anti-DUI device detects alcohol levels through skin

By Zlati Meyer, USA TODAY and the Detroit Free Press

By Laura Bly, USA TODAY


A pair of companies are working on a device that checks a driver's blood-alcohol level through the skin.


Takata, a Japanese company unit with its U.S. base in Auburn Hills, Mich., and its partner, TruTouch in Albuquerque, have received a $2.25-million grant from the Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety (ACTS), an industry group, to make the device commercially viable.


The two companies are working to make its current breadbox-size device that uses an infrared sensor to determine alcohol level small enough, cheap enough and unobtrusive enough to be put on the car's start button, said Kirk Morris, Takata's vice president of business development.


Another goal:

It is to reduce the processing time from several seconds to 200 milliseconds and to be able to function not just at room temperature, as it does now, but from 40 below to 85 degrees and with different humidity and vibration levels.


The reader is as accurate as a blood test. Takata is aiming to get the cost down to approximately $200 each.


"The goal is to take impaired drivers off the road," Morris said. "Breathalyzers are invasive. You have to blow into a tube. If this technology is to be used on a daily basis, we want it to be non-invasive, not intrusive. ... Drivers pushing a button wouldn't even know it's there."


In 2009, close to 11,000 Americans, or one every 48 minutes, were killed in drunken-driving accidents -- 32% of the country's total motor vehicle traffic fatalities -- according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's most recent data.


NHTSA has a five-year, $10 million joint initiative with ACTS called the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety.


In a statement, NHTSA said that project "is seen as a potential tool for keeping drunk drivers from being able to operate their car if their blood-alcohol concentration is at or above the legal intoxication limit (.08 or higher). The technology could be voluntarily installed as an option for new cars and signal a new frontier in the fight against drunk driving."


Susan Ferguson, program director for Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety, said she expects to see this alcohol screener go to market in eight to 10 years.