Cameras Save Lives… Maybe; But They Definitely Make Money And De Blasio Wants More Of Them

Mayor Bill de Blasio is so upset about pedestrian deaths in the streets of New York City that he has come up with a plan to prevent them. This plan will also put millions of dollars into the city coffers, but that is not his motive. In fact, he is so unconcerned about the money that his new program will bring in that he didn’t even mention it. His plan is also, as far as I can tell, unproven to actually save lives, but he is confident that it will work. Scientific confirmation is unnecessary.

A Fox News affiliate reports:

The NYPD began cracking down on speeding drivers using new speed cameras on Thursday as part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to prevent pedestrian deaths.

The new mayor called traffic fatalities an epidemic in the city.

The cameras had previously been used to send warnings, now they’ll issue tickets.

“I want to emphasize we are making this statement just two weeks into our administration because we think there is an epidemic here. There has been an epidemic of traffic fatalities and it can’t go on and the time to start change is now,” said de Blasio.

He added, “We found long and hard to begin to put in the speed cameras we need, we need many more.

De Blasio says that 11 people have been killed in traffic-related accidents in New York City in 2014.

The first question I have is: Does the presence of cameras make people more careful to avoid pedestrians? It seems perfectly plausible that people who are checking above them for traffic cameras might actually end up killing more pedestrians rather than fewer. And, in fact, there is some data that corroborates this common-sense inference.

According to England’s The Daily Mail:

Road deaths dropped 14 per cent in three months while speed cameras were being axed or switched off.

Fatalities over a year fell 21 per cent to a record low, Department for Transport figures show.

But more than half of Britain’s 6,000 speed cameras are now switched off at any one time as councils try to save money.

One could say deaths fell because fewer people are driving, but traffic volume decreased by only 1.3% and it’s doubtful people suddenly became better drivers:

There were 510 road deaths between July and September 2010, compared with 596 in the same period in 2009 – a fall of 14 per cent.

The number killed or seriously injured fell by 5 per cent, from 7,115 to 6,740.

If this source is accurate, then pedestrian deaths might get traded for other deaths as “people will suddenly slow down, even if the road ahead is clear, for fear of getting caught speeding”—thus having more accidents.

Will de Blasio even track stats to see if his program is working as intended?

Of course, “working as intended” might not mean what de Blasio claims that it means. Reason Magazine’s blog pointed out last year that Washington DC’s implementation of cameras had effects on revenue collection:

DC’s traffic-fine revenue is up 62 percent from two years ago. Read the whole story here.

It’s far from clear that traffic cameras actually reduce accidents, much less fatalities, on an ongoing basis. Note that the figures cited above by DC police are for the city as a whole and that given the massive numbers of passenger miles driven annually in the area, the difference between 16 and 28 statistically approaches zero.

If you think de Blasio is unaware of how lucrative cameras have proven to be for Washington DC, or that he is motivated by such considerations, have a pleasant dream. The most I can say about this plan is that it will do less damage than fulfilling his promise to close down crisis pregnancy centers.