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Old 2008-11-12
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Exclamation Scholars Uncover Flaws in Red Light Camera Research

Article: Scholars Uncover Flaws in Red Light Camera Research

American Journal of Public HealthUniversity of South Florida researchers have uncovered fundamental flaws in the first US study to claim red light cameras decrease accidents. Since 2001, the insurance industry's report on the benefits of red light camera use in Oxnard, California has been cited by hundreds of cities as the basis for the adoption of photo enforcement (view study in PDF). Researchers Barbara Orban, Etienne Pracht and John T. Large attempted to replicate these findings and discovered that the Oxnard numbers, intended to serve as the model of peer-reviewed scholarship, simply did not add up.

"The regression analysis of [Oxnard study authors Richard] Retting and [Sergey] Kyrychenko does not support their conclusion that red light cameras reduced total or injury crashes," the University of South Florida team wrote in the American Journal of Public Health last month.

In 2004, North Carolina A&T University Professor Mark Burkey was the first to publish a detailed critique of the methodology used in the Oxnard report (read critique in PDF, see page 13). The Florida researchers verified Professor Burkey's findings.

"The Oxnard red light camera study violates many basic principles of sound statistical public health research and lacks internal and external validity," the Florida researchers concluded. "All red light camera investigations should be scrutinized for adherence to applied research methods since studies with greater adherence to quasi-experimental research designs have concluded red light cameras are associated with large increases in crashes and since special interest groups with a financial stake in red light camera use are actively working to influence public opinion and policy."

A number of observers have pointed to conflicts of interest involved in the Oxnard study. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety funded the research which, in turn, helped its parent companies collect millions in additional profit. Because widespread installation of cameras has increased the number of photo tickets issued in California, each of which carries license points, these companies have been able to collect substantially higher annual insurance premiums. In 2001, the former majority leader of the US House of Representatives slammed the Oxnard study's primary author for not disclosing his own fundamental conflict of interest.

"Before joining the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Retting was a top transportation official in New York City at the time the city began looking into becoming the first jurisdiction in the country to install red light cameras," a 2001 report from the Office of the House Majority leader stated (view report). "In other words, the father of the red light camera in America is the same individual offering the 'objective' testimony that they are effective."

As of September 29, Retting was no longer employed by the Insurance Institute. He now works for Sam Schwartz Engineering, a toll road consulting firm. More
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