Letters to the Editor – 11/17/2008

Re: Red-light cameras not quite illegal
Our letter, in response to “Red-light cameras not quite illegal,” focuses on comments made by Josh Weiss, spokesman for the for-profit corporation American Traffic Solutions (ATS). The USF study referred to in the article was conducted by three College of Public Health professors and not, as Josh Weiss states, by a single “disgruntled academician.” Academicians, as well as other professionals, have documented the flaws in industry-backed red-light camera studies for years. However, in the words of Upton Sinclair: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”

For many years, we have conducted research with trauma surgeons. The red-light camera issue surfaced in 2005 when Florida legislation proposed funding trauma centers with fines from camera tickets. Although Florida trauma surgeons could have benefited from the legislation, they had concerns since some evaluations concluded cameras are associated with increased crashes. We proceeded to analyze major camera studies in an effort to understand how evaluations could render conflicting conclusions.

Weiss states: “We place no credibility in this obviously biased study.” However, no evidence was cited that would suggest some purported bias. Anyone with a modicum of statistical knowledge could understand the nature and findings of our study. Our analytic review critiqued recent major camera studies.

In addition to our analytic review, we replicated one of the non-experimental studies and detailed the flaws in a response titled “Analysis Violates Principles of Sound Research & Public Health Evaluation,” which now accompanies the original study in the American Journal of Public Health online. Unfortunately, the significant increase in crashes at camera intersections is difficult to prevent since it occurs from, among other variables, driver-specific brake times, vehicle-specific braking distances, and road and weather conditions. A basis for ethics in health is non-malfeasance — i.e., do no harm. An intervention that increases crashes is unethical by health standards.

Public health has a tradition of working to protect the general public from the sale of “snake oil,” meaning worthless or unhealthy remedies that are pitched as having health benefits. We continue this tradition by pointing out that misinformation is being used to influence officials regarding red-light camera efficacy. We fully explain the role of the special interest groups in our response to two letters from critics, available at http://hsc.usf.edu/publichealth/fphr/current.htm.

Dr. Etienne Pracht was unavailable to contribute to this response. He is teaching this week in Suriname.

John Large and Barbara Langland-Orban are professors at the USF College of Public Health.