By Sean Leary
Of the five traffic cameras in Muscatine, four have lived up to expectations of safety benefits. But the one at Highway 61 and University Drive has not.
The City of Muscatine reported to the IDOT that, since the traffic cameras were implemented in 2011, the data shows a reduction in speed violations and red light violations. In 2011, the cameras recorded 12,857 speed violations; in 2016, there were only 5,999. Overall, there was a 33% reduction in red light violations from the first year of the program.
The City also reported a reduction of the total number of accidents.
The City’s numbers are based upon an aggregate of all five cameras. However, there are individual discrepancies. When examined on a case-by-case basis, only four of the five cameras could be deemed effective utilizing the barometer of increased safety.
Whereas IDOT numbers show a decrease in overall accidents for four of the five cameras, data for the camera at Highway 61 and University Drive does not show any decrease. The data actually demonstrates an increase in an individual year (from 2015 to 2016) and aggregate increase (from 2011 to 2016).
Before the camera was installed at Highway 61/University Drive, in 2009 and 2010, there were five accidents in each year. In the first year of the camera, 2011, there were seven accidents, and in 2012 there were six, both an increase from the years prior to the camera. In 2013 and 2014, the number was level with pre-camera statistics at five crashes each. Finally, in 2015, the number decreased, with only four accidents. But then in 2016, it spiked to seven accidents.
Even in the face of that data, city officials maintain that keeping speeders and red-light violators at bay still keeps citizens safer. Jenison’s press release on behalf of the city states “the countermeasures (IDOT) promotes are for reducing the number of red-light violations, not decreasing or modifying excessive speeding which is one of the leading causes of accidents.”
Does speed kill?
In 2008, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) published a report that documents the investigation of 6,950 crashes nationwide.
According to that report, 95% of all crashes were caused by the drivers, 2.5% were caused by the vehicles, and 2.5% were caused by roadway/weather. Of the 95% that were attributed to drivers, 40.6% was driver recognition error (inadequate surveillance, internal/external distraction, inattention, etc.), 34.1% was driver decision error (too fast for conditions, too fast for curve, false assumptions, illegal maneuver, misjudgment, etc.), 10.3% was driver performance error (overcompensation, poor control, etc.), 7.1% was driver non-performance error (sleep, heart attack/other physical impairment, etc.), and 7.9% was due to other/unknown driver error.
The argument could be made that driver errors may be exacerbated by higher speeds, which leave less reaction time for the driver when attempting to compensate for human error. There is no specific data supporting that train of thought. Still, police and city officials posit a correlation.
“The ATE system at [the Hwy 61/University Dr.] approach was installed for speed enforcement,” Phil Sargent, assistant police chief for the City of Muscatine, said in a press release from the City. “Crashes were not the factor in this decision. This is a portal to a major business district in the city and, as such, the reckless habits of speeders created a major hazard to the business, their employees, their consumers, and our residents.”