Marco Rubio Is Right: Red Light Cameras Are A “Big Scam”





jim kane





That’s a big scam,” Senator Marco Rubio on red light cameras, New York Times, June 5, 2015




Cities and Counties have always insisted that red-light cameras are all about safety and not about the money it generates. Call me a skeptic, but I always had my doubts about the safety aspect in local governments’ desire to put these cameras at busy intersections.

I have never received a red light ticket and haven’t had a moving violation since I was 17, so I don’t have any personal animus toward them. I’m just skeptical.

Then I received a press release from American Traffic Solutions, which provides the red-light camera services for most cities in Florida.

The press release headline stated: “Annual Florida Report Shows Red-Light Cameras Intersection Safety Benefit Driver 36% Less Likely to be Involved in a Crash at a Red-Light Safety Camera Intersections.”

And I said to myself, self, I guess I was wrong. I shouldn’t be so skeptical.  Red light cameras must be a safety device.

But curiosity got the best of me. So I downloaded the report from the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles entitled: “Red Light Camera Summary Report.”


No State Oversight


As the Department points out, there isn’t any statewide oversight of red-light cameras. So the Department has no idea how many cameras are operating or their locations.

To compile the report, they created an on-line survey for counties and municipalities to complete. A total of 71 jurisdictions responded to the survey, but only 37 provided complete data for the time period studied.

This data encompassed two different time periods: the year before the activation of red-light cameras (the control variable) and the year after the cameras were activated at each intersection (the treatment variable). Thus, the Department had a set of crashes at intersections before the introduction of cameras and a set following their activation.

The report lists the numbers of intersections analyzed, total crashes before and after cameras, angle crashes before and after cameras, and rear-end crashes before and after.

In addition, it lists the type of injuries sustained (if any), as non-incapacitating injuries (minor) or capacitating injuries (serious) and fatalities. So with my trusty statistical program, I began the laborious process of imputing all this data.

The Department’s study is called a quasi-experimental design which allows for a comparison before a treatment intervention (or control) and, of course, the results after the intervention, which is in this case the activation of a red-light camera. Remember, however, that this data comes from the jurisdictions self-reports and not collected directly by the Department of Highway Safety.




Statistics, Damn Statistics



Since we have data on each intersection before and after red-light cameras, we can compare whether the cameras either decreased accidents or increased them. Remarkably, all crashes at red-light intersections increased by 15% after the cameras were activated, as shown in Table 1.


                                                      All Accidents Before and After Red Light Cameras

Total Before Crashes Total After Crashes Decrease/Increase
3453 3959 + 15%

Table 1 (Sig, @.07 level)

The year before cameras, these jurisdictions reported 3,453 at intersections that would eventually have cameras installed. After the cameras were activated, these same intersections had 3,959 crashes, or an increase of 15%.

Now the Department breaks down crash categories into two different types: Angel crashes and rear-end collisions. Angle accidents are considered the more dangerous of the two types of collisions.

In Table 2, these same intersections had a total of 815 angle accidents without cameras and a total of 814 after the cameras were activated. Basically, no change here.

                                    Angle Accidents Before and After Red Light Cameras

Total Before Crashes Total After Crashes Decrease/Increase
815 814 -0.12%

                                                                                          Table 2


As for rear-end crashes, these jurisdictions reported a total of 835 versus 920 after camera activation, or an increase of 10% as shown in Table 3.

Rear-End Crashes Before and After Red Light Cameras

Total Before Crashes Total After Crashes Decrease/Increase
835 920 +10.2%

                                                                                          Table 3


Cities and counties have long claimed that red-light cameras were about safety and not about the money (Don’t smirk).

Last year, red-light jurisdictions collected over $150 million from this safety program. It’s good to know that government can make us safer and still make money while doing it.

So let’s look how safe we have become since the cameras were activated. The Department divided intersection injuries into three categories: non-incapacitating (less serious), incapacitating (serious), and fatality (really serious).


                                                                        Non-Incapacitating Injuries

Total Before Total After Decrease/Increase
495 506 +2.2%

                                                                                          Table 4

Table 4 shows that before cameras were activated, non-incapacitating injuries totaled 495 and with cameras a total of 506, only a 2.2% increase.

Most jurisdictions have proclaimed that red-light cameras reduce the number of more serious accidents which a more likely occur in angle crashes and red-light cameras, they claim, prevent these injury-prone accidents.

But somehow, the data doesn’t show that, as displayed in Table 5

                                                                        Incapacitating Injuries

Total Before Total After Decrease/Increase
174 225 + 29.3%

                                                                                          Table 5

Incapacitating crashes went from 174 before cameras to 225 after they were installed. Almost a 30% increase from before cameras started making money. If you look at it from a financial point view, that’s a measly 51 serious accidents compared to the $150 million you’re collecting.


And finally, there are the fatalities that occurred at these intersections. In Table 6, the report only shows an increase of only two deaths after the cameras were installed.


Total Before Total After Decrease/Increase
16 18 +12.5%

                                                                                          Table 6

And let’s not forget the people riding their bikes or walking to work. They count too.


In Table 7, these non-motorists’ accidents increased by nearly 17%. I guess these folks thought they were safer when crossing a red-light camera intersection. Bad mistake.

                                                                        Crashes Involving Non-Motorists

Total Before Total After Decrease/Increase.
185 216 +16.8%

                                                                                          Table 7


The Spin


As I mentioned, my analysis of the Department’s report was stimulated by the press release issued by American Traffic Solutions that claimed that drivers in Florida were less likely to be in a crash at a red-light intersection than the rest of Florida. Below is the actual statement by ATS from their press release:

“Since 2011 total crashes in Florida are up statewide by 50%, however the DHSMV report found that angle crashes – the most violent and dangerous type of crash, did not increase at intersections equipped with red-light safety cameras. Furthermore, drivers at intersections with red-light safety cameras had a 36 percent less likelihood of being involved in a collision than the overall statewide trend.” — American Traffic Solutions

This PR statement puts new meaning into the word chutzpa.

Let’s start with “the report found that angle crashes—the most violent and dangerous type of crash (italics added), did not increase …” Actually, angle crashes declined by one accident (see Table 2). However, as we’ve shown, the most serious accidents increased in intersections after the cameras were activated (see Table 5).

Now let’s tackle the “36% less likelihood of being involved in a collision than the overall statewide trend.”

At first, I couldn’t figure out how they came up this figure. Nowhere in the report is there a mention of any decline, let alone a 36 percent one.

The report, however, mentions that all crashes in the state increased during the 2011-2014 period by 50%. That’s a 50% increase of all “crashes” such as I-95, Turnpike, country roads, etc. and not just intersection crashes (the department doesn’t have records on just intersections) over a four-year period.

So where do they come up with the 36% figure?

I believe what they did was take the increase of all red-light camera accidents after the control period, which was 15% and subtracted it from the statewide increase of all accidents during a four year period which was a 50% (I know, fifty minus fifteen is 35, but math doesn’t much matter here). In other words, if the statewide increase was 51% and their intersections only increased 15%, the good citizens of our contract cities actually were safer.

What ATS doesn’t tell us is that this significant increase is an artifact due to the change in the reporting requirements.

As the Department states in their 2012 report, “…while crash data may appear to reflect an increase in crashes, the statutory changes resulted in more crash reports being received for inclusion in this publication. These changes have resulted in an increase in the number of reported crashes… and should not be taken as an indicator of a significant increase in crashes statewide compared to previous years” (Italics added).

It should also be noted that both the before and after comparison periods reflected these increases as well.

To be fair, some individual cities had red-light cameras at intersections that did improve over the control period. But the law of small numbers tells us that variation increases as the number of data point’s decreases.

In other words, we need far more observations to make any substantive conclusions that any city actually increased safety with cameras.

What can one can conclude from this report?

First, on a statewide basis, these jurisdictions own data indicates that cameras did not increase safety at camera intersections.

More importantly, more serious accidents increased. Putting it bluntly, Marco Rubio was right, red-light cameras are a scam, at least when it comes to safety.





18 Responses to “Marco Rubio Is Right: Red Light Cameras Are A “Big Scam””

  1. Oh no! says:

    BUDDY! Why did you have to post this article. I am preparing for the avalanche of word salad known as an Angelo Castillo post in 3-2-1…………

    Discuss……….and run for your lives.

  2. George Mihaiu says:

    Thanks for the in-depth work and effort on this, Jim. This was an easy initial sell to politicians by focusing on the safety aspect and that the entities would make money. Facts are facts, though, and as you’ve so eloquently shown, this is yet another example of where the ‘sizzle’ of the sales pitch and forecasts doesn’t measure up to the actual results.

  3. Pembroke Pines Commissioner Jay Schwartz says:

    I never supported them. In fact we went dark in June of 2013 after placing ATS in breach of contract.

    To date the City of Pembroke Pines has lost more than $450K when you include all hard costs, soft costs, and legal.

    City Administration presented similar data that Buddy has posted.

  4. Archduke BFD Samuel du Shamrack says:

    My Dear Marquis de Kane,

    It is a pleasure reading you sir.

  5. Commissioner Angelo Castillo says:

    Buddy and Jim:

    I publicly and unabashedly defy and challenge the veracity and conclusions of this “study” which to me sounds more like DOT being used as a tool again by insurance companies angling for another huge auto insurance premium hike.

    Perhaps camera programs are working too well in Florida and they’re facing a need to lower premium? Whatever the motive, that study is a joke and just plain false. It defies logic.

    Look, there’s no way — NO possible way — that any city which responsibly implemented a red light camera enforcement program saw an increase in the number and/or severity of crashes AFTER the program started as compared to BEFORE.

    No way.

    As in, no way in hell did that happen. Anywhere.

    It’s simply and laughably impossible.

    Prove me wrong.

    I publicly challenge the Governor and DOT to send in a professional and independent source to perform a review of this “study” top to bottom. Guaranteed that in short order it will be shown to be a sham.

    Meanwhile, at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety — the insurance industry’s own think tank for helping reduce auto claims — here’s their most recent endorsement of red light camera programs.

    It’s pretty much what they’ve been saying about red light cameras for the last 20 years. Perhaps the greedy auto insurance companies wish their own highway safety institute would keep quiet?

    Drive safely.


    PS — I closely monitored the red light camera program in Pembroke Pines and consistently we saw significant reductions in red light crashes and violations, plus improvements in overall driving behavior citywide, not just at the intersections with cameras but throughout the entire city. Without question, the program was effective and saved lives. It made people drive more carefully.

    PPS — And we lost money running this program, it was by no means a money maker. Sure, we’d like all programs to cost nothing. But saving lives is worth it.

  6. Stormwatch says:

    Many of us have known for a long time that red light cameras are a scam. The best way to reduce red light running is to increase yellow light time, not decrease it. If commissioner Castillo would read the congressional study maybe then he’d see the light. Then again, maybe not.

  7. Count LF Chodkiewicz Chudzikiewicz says:

    Is Commissioner Castillo. “Closely watching” red light cameras in Pembroke Whines while “on duty” in the Sheriff’s Office on OUR DIME?

  8. Commissioner Angelo Castillo says:


    On the issue of yellow light durations, FDOT traffic engineers are responsible for this statewide. I asked them personally some years ago about longer yellows. They have consistently said there is a formula that is used by traffic engineers everwhere. It considers the capacity of the road and speed limit, among other factors, in pinpointing what a yellow light duration should be.

    Now, I don’t know exactly what the equation is or how it works but the answer I got for Pines Boulevard is 4 second yellow lights. If any of you see a yellow that’s longer or shorter than 4 seconds on Pines Boulevard call me personally. I’ll have it fixed.

    I have never had a proble or argument with longer yellow lights IF the FDOT traffic engineers will approve it as a means to keep drivers safer. In fact, my motivation to keep people safe causes me to have no argument with most anything that achieves that goal in Florida — one of our nation’s most beautiful yet dangerous places to drive. And that my friends explains why we pay so much in auto insurance.

    Oh, and by the way, I just finished reading a report from the Pembroke Pines PD — Jim and Buddy pay attention because this is for you.

    It appears that the “study” is indeed flawed. According to Pines crime analysts, the before crash numbers only include intersection violations for which red light citations were issued. Thing is, unless there’s testimony (somebody saw a red light being run) cops rarely issue a violation.

    In fact, very frequently no citation is issued because there’s no evidence that the light was run.

    And yet, when we see t-bone accidents in the immediate vicinity of a traffic signal, even if there’s no citation issued for running a light, it seems pretty clear what actually took place there. Somebody ran a light. Otherwise that t-bone accident could not have occurred.

    This significant under reporting goes a long way — the Pines PD says — toward explaining why the study vastly understated the before accidents. The after accidents are easy to determine because there we have video showing one of the cars violating a red light.

    Drive safely y’all.


  9. SAM FIELDS says:


    The last one that I got was in North Miami. When I reviewed the Red Light Camera contract, to no surprise, the city and ATS were splitting the fine money.

    Without boring you with the Florida Rules of Evidence, the fact that the city and ATS are partners makes admissibility of the evidence against me much more difficult for the prosecution.

    I filed the appropriate motion and subpoenaed the Mayor who had signed the contract.

    On the day of the hearing an Assistant City Attorney showed up and explained that that the Mayor was unavailable …she had become a guest of the FBI which had arrested her for a mortgage fraud scam.

    They dropped the case.

    Between Court Reporters, subpoenas, etc. it cost more than the $158 fine. But it was money well spent.

    This Red Light scam is just the newest version of one of those small town “speed traps” like my home town North Miami Beach. In the 1950’s, our Mayor– whose name was really “George P. Slick”– sat on the City Hall lawn with a cash register collecting fines from tourists caught speeding on Biscayne Blvd.

    Up until 1976 speeding tickets were criminal. So if you wanted to fight the charge they would arrest you and make you post a bond that was equal to the fine.

    If you did not show to trial they found you guilty and forfeited the bond to cover the fine.

    Note to Jim Kane. Chutzpah has an “h” on the end.

  10. Stormwatch says:

    Commissioner, FDOT purposely decreased yellow times to coincide with the implementation of red light cameras so municipalities can generate income. It’s part of the scam. Rather than defend your approval of these cameras under the guise of FDOT guidelines, why don’t you and your fellow lawmakers start demanding that FDOT start increasing yellow times. By the way, once you leave Broward County and enter Palm Beach County via State Road 7, the yellow lights on 441 get noticeably longer.

  11. Angelo, Oh, Angelo says:

    If Pembroke Pines’ unpopular red light cameras were installed for safety purposes, I’m sure that Angelo Castillo would be glad to sponsor donating all revenue from them to Mothers Against Drunk Driving or some other safe driving charity.

  12. Commissioner Angelo Castillo says:


    I think that’s a great idea! I would absolutely support any red light camera fines collected over and above my city’s cost donated to Mother’s Against Drunk Driving.

    Great idea. I’m 100% on board and I will propose it. Thanks for the suggestion it’s a good one.

    It is a hugely popular program in my city and this would make it even more so.


  13. White Magic says:

    It’s absolutely laughable that angelo continues to either truely have been sold that these things save lives, EVEN in the face of statistical analysis and facts. Been to a trump rally lately Angelo?

  14. Count LF Chodkiewicz Chudzikiewicz says:

    The placement of “h” s in Yiddish n Hebrew like “C” s n “o”s n “u”s in Polish White Russian Ukrainian n Russian is a complicated issue that requires a hardcover book of 1000 pages to discuss in detail, but I’ll accept Counsellor Fields ruling in the intetest of efficient use of Broward Beat readers time sorely tried by Commissioner Castillo’s unbridled alibing for government waste abuse n stupity.

  15. Commissioner Angelo Castillo says:

    Dear #13:

    Forgive the question but I’m just not sure what part of the explanation provided in post #8 you find so impenetrable.

    To repeat, a Pembroke Pines Police Crime Analyst has found the critical flaw in the study that I suspected had to exist all along.

    The flaw results in a significant under counting of the before crash the numbers. The magnitude of the flaw is so significant that it invalidates the conclusions of the so called “report.” And frankly, the error is so fundamental that a 6th grader should have avoided it.

    The “study” is worthless because the data used to produce it is grossly inadequate.

    Now, you can live in denial. You can wish that virtually all experts didn’t agree that red light camera enforcement improves driving behavior. But they do. And it does.

    You even have the right to be one of those birthers or among the ranks of climate change cynics.

    Opinions never change the facts. Red light camera enforcement programs improve driving behavior, which reduces crashes and ultimately saves lives.

    The daily carnage we see on our roads forces us to make one of two choices.

    We can either protect ourselves from reckless drivers or we can let the them kill us. You won’t find that blood on my hands. I’ve already made my choice. You make yours.

    Please drive safely.


  16. Stormwatch says:

    There’s 2 types of red light runners. Drivers who purposely run the red light and people who don’t. The driver who purposely runs the red light is “squeezing the lemon.” They know the light is yellow and about to turn red. They’re going to try and make it. Depending on the length of the yellow light, maybe they’ll make it and maybe they won’t. But its unlikely an accident will ensue. Unless they stop and get rear ended. Red light cameras target the lemon squeezers. They reduce yellow times to ensure profitability. The driver who doesn’t purposely run the red light is not a lemon squeezer. They never saw the light. They’re talking on their phone, texting, tuning the radio, pullung out a CD, yelling at the kids in the back seat, etc. They barrel through the intersection, an accident occurs, and people die. No red light camera can ever fix that.

  17. PandaBear says:

    Well, of course arrogant, horrible, dangerous, careless, belligerent, and malcontent drivers oppose the cameras! What else could you expect? They want to rule! Make them follow the law and they’ll throw a fit. These are the idiots that cause most of our “accidents”.

  18. City Activist Robert Walsh says:

    # 2 George right ( I like George because he is one of us). I got a red light ticket($158 bucks down the drain) paid it in good faith, now that the courts have ruled pay us back in good faith. Still waiting fr my money back. My suggestion have a open house one say Friday afternoon , show your id and cut us our check-simple-no first deny,deny, deny, now delay, delay , delay. What is it going to take i Mean enough allready give us are money back and move on….