The city of Spokane installed cameras at three intersections to cut down on the number of costly collisions and to fine those who run red lights. From Nov. 1, 2008, through Oct. 31 of last year, 5,690 tickets were issued, but crashes and injuries did not decline. If that trend were to continue, the city would have to reconsider the program. But one year’s worth of data is not enough to make such a call.
Spokane didn’t invent Photo Red. It’s been used in many communities and some have gotten positive results. In Spokane, there were 38 collisions in those intersections, which is six more than in 2007. Injury-related accidents went from 11 to 14.
The question for the Spokane Police Department is what can be done to improve the numbers. The program must do more than take pictures and mail fines. Councilman Bob Apple would like to dump Photo Red, but that’s premature. Council President Joe Shogan’s three-year timeline for evaluation is more sensible.
What the cameras reveal is a definite problem: nearly 6,000 incidents of drivers ignoring the red lights at three intersections: Browne Street and Sprague Avenue, Hamilton Street and Mission Avenue, and Division Street and Francis Avenue. Those drivers deserved their $124 fines, but if the tickets and the cameras aren’t deterrents, then this is just a money-making enterprise for the private contractor. The tickets raised $419,000. The police estimate they will get $103,000.
It’s how that money is put to use that could hold the key to success. At present, people find out about Photo Red by word of mouth or the occasional media mention. The prospect of a costly ticket isn’t well-known. As other public safety campaigns have shown, incessant publicity is important.
Because of public service announcements, effective signage and high fines, most people have heard of “Click it or Ticket.” As a result, Washington state boasts the highest seat-belt compliance in the nation.
Photo Red has a high-end ticket but low-rent publicity.
The Police Department plans to place cameras at four more intersections this year, but if that’s the only change, it’s doubtful that better results will be achieved. Revenue will go up, but the sign of success is whether the number of injury-related crashes goes down. If not, the charges of “Big Brother” and “cash cow” will grow louder.
Photo Red has met its promise in other cities. It can do so here if it becomes more prominent in the minds of drivers.