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Photo Radar: Demonstration Project Evaluation

Photo Radar: Demonstration Project Evaluation
 
Executive Summary
Cities of Beaverton and Portland, Oregon
January 1997
 
Introduction
 
Portland and Beaverton (the "Cities") received authority from the 1995 Oregon State Legislature to conduct a two-year test of photo radar. Photo radar is a speed enforcement tool operated by trained police officers in a marked police vehicle. When radar detects a speeding vehicle, a camera takes a photograph of the driver and license plate, and a reader board displays the vehicle's speed to the driver. A citation is then mailed to the registered owner of the vehicle.
 
Senate Bill 382 requires the Cities to present an evaluation of photo radar to the Oregon Department of Transportation for presentation to the 1997 Legislative Assembly. To respond to this request, the Cities examined photo radar's public acceptance, its impact on traffic safety, and its implementation procedures. The Cities' findings from the first nine months of operations are presented in this evaluation. The full demonstration project runs through December 31, 1997.
 
Background
 
Speeding is one of the most frequent complaints to city officials in Portland and Beaverton. In 1995, Portland residents alone lodged more than 700 speeding complaints with the Portland Bureau of Traffic Management and Police Traffic Division. Speeding in neighborhoods and school zones compromises the livability and safety of neighborhoods. It makes playing outdoors hazardous to children, it increases background noise due to vehicles, and it makes walking, bicycling, and driving dangerous for all.
 
Unfortunately, both Cities lack sufficient resources to adequately enforce speed laws. For example, in Portland at any one time, the city has only four to six officers on duty to provide traffic enforcement and investigate accidents on over 1,700 miles of streets. To encourage drivers to slow down, Portland and Beaverton supplemented traditional police enforcement with educational programs such as "speed watch," and engineering solutions such as speed bumps.
 
To further improve traffic safety and neighborhood livability, Portland neighborhood activists developed the Reclaiming Our Streets (ROS) Community Action Plan in 1993. One primary goal of the plan is to, "reduce traffic speeds and volumes on neighborhood streets to make them safer for pedestrians, bicyclists, and residents, with special regard for children." In the ROS Plan, residents identified photo radar as a possible solution to speeding in neighborhoods and school zones. The ROS Implementation Team, appointed by the City Council to follow up on the Community Action Plan, played the lead role in advocating for photo radar legislation.
 
Program Goals & Objectives
 
Consistent with the desires of its citizen supporters, the goal of the Cities' photo radar program is to slow speeding motorists in neighborhoods and school zones thereby diminishing the frequency and severity of collisions and contributing to neighborhood livability and safety. The expectation is that if the risk of being ticketed increases through the use of photo radar, motorists will slow down to avoid being ticketed.
The photo radar demonstration project, which began in January 1996, tests photo radar's effectiveness as a speed enforcement tool. The four main objectives of the demonstration project are to:
  • Evaluate public acceptance of photo radar as a speed enforcement tool;
  • Determine if photo radar effectively controls speed on residential streets and in school zones;
  • Evaluate the administrative process, including citation issuance, delivery and adjudication. Assess the impact on police and court operations as well as the fiscal impact of the program; and,
  • Suggest design or planning changes that might reduce traffic congestion on residential streets or use of such streets as thoroughfares. Appendix B of the Photo Radar Evaluation Report addresses this issue.
Portland and Beaverton strictly adhered to the requirements of the legislation. A project team representing government and residents created a unified set of policies and procedures, attached as Appendix D, that reinforce the project's legislative requirements. The Cities also took steps to make drivers aware that photo radar is one tool police use to enforce speed laws including an extensive public information campaign in December 1995 and January 1996.
 
Photo Radar Technology & Citation Processing
 
Photo radar consists of a narrow-beam, low-powered Doppler radar antenna aimed across the road, a high-speed traffic camera and flash unit, and a computer that records the date, time, speed and location of the violation. The system is mounted in a police vehicle that may move to any school zone or neighborhood with a speed-related problem. A reader board in the back window of the police unit displays the vehicle's speed to the driver.
 
The officer operating the equipment evaluates each location to determine the appropriate speed threshold at which to issue citations. In determining this threshold, officers consider posted speed, weather, time of day, and normal speed patterns. The camera photographs all vehicles exceeding this threshold. The officer does not operate photo radar for more than four hours a day in any one location.
 
The Cities lease the photo radar vehicles and equipment from a private vendor, who is also responsible for processing the film, identifying the registered owners from Driver and Motor Vehicle Services (DMV), and printing citations for signature by the officer who witnessed the violation. Citations are mailed within six business days of the violation and the citation recipient has 30 days to respond. Photographs are not mailed with the citation.
 
A person receiving a citation has three options: pay the fine, request and attend a court trial, or complete a certificate of innocence. The registered owner may submit a certificate of innocence with a copy of his or her driver's license only if he or she was not the driver at the time of the violation. Once the registered owner submits a certificate of innocence, the court dismisses the citation.
 
The Evaluation
 
PUBLIC ACCEPTANCE
Awareness and approval of photo radar increased in both Cities according to public opinion surveys conducted in September 1995 and again in September 1996.
See Table 1.
TABLE 1 Summary of Public Opinion Survey Results, Beaverton
  Beaverton Beaverton Beaverton
  Sept 1995 Sept 1996 % change
Awareness of photo
radar as a police speed
enforcement tool
28% 85% +60%
Approval for photo
radar use in school zones
81% 88% +7%
Approval for photo
radar use in neighborhoods
68% 78% +10%


TABLE 1 Summary of Public Opinion Survey Results, Portland
  Portland Portland Portland
  Sept 1995 Sept 1996 % change
Awareness of photo
radar as a police speed
enforcement tool
42% 88% +46%
Approval for photo
radar use in school zones
82% 89% +7%
Approval for photo
radar use in neighborhoods
69% 74% +5%



Residents also expressed support for photo radar use in other areas not authorized under the current photo radar statute, including construction zones, business zones, and any city street. In addition, eighty percent of respondents in both Cities supported issuing citations to businesses. Business and public agencies do not register their cars as individual drivers and therefore under the photo radar statute only receive warning letters. Finally, 58 percent of the individuals calling the photo radar hotline-established to respond to residents' questions and concerns-expressed support for photo radar, 33 percent did not express support or opposition and only 9 percent expressed opposition to the program.
 
BEAVERTON TRAFFIC SAFETY STUDY
 
Beaverton conducted two traffic safety studies to determine the effectiveness of photo radar in reducing speeds. In the first study, engineers collected speed data on select streets in October 1995 before photo radar deployment, and compared it to speed data collected in February 1996 on the same streets some with and some without photo radar deployment. February results showed that:
  • The percentage of vehicles exceeding 30 mph (more than five mph over the posted speed limit) declined by 28 percent on streets with photo radar and increased by 16 percent on the streets without photo radar; and,
  • Average speeds decreased on the streets with photo radar by 1.6 percent and increased by 2.7 percent on the streets without photo radar.
In the second study conducted in April 1996, Beaverton engineers collected speed data on streets using photo radar and from the other streets using no photo radar on the same day. The engineers collected the speed data from the same streets one week later when photo radar was not deployed on any of the streets. The study results showed that photo radar reduced speeds in the first and second weeks:
  • Thirty-nine percent fewer vehicles exceeded 30 mph on the streets with photo radar than on the streets without photo radar during week one. Forty-five percent fewer vehicles exceeded 30 mph on the streets with photo radar than on the streets without photo radar during week two.
  • Average speeds on the streets with photo radar were 4.6 percent lower than on streets without photo radar in week one and 5.4 percent lower in week two.
PORTLAND TRAFFIC SAFETY STUDY
 
Portland's traffic safety study compared data collected from June to September on streets that received intensive photo radar enforcement with data collected on streets with no photo radar enforcement. The study showed:
  • The percentage of vehicles exceeding the posted speed limit by more than 10 mph decreased by 27 percent on streets with photo radar and increased by 12 percent on the streets without photo radar; and,
  • Average speeds dropped by 2.0 mph on the streets with photo radar and increased by 0.2 mph on the streets without photo radar.
  • Portland's study also compared data collected from June to September on streets that received intensive photo radar enforcement with data collected on streets where photo radar deployment was discontinued as of June 1. The study showed:
  • The percentage of vehicles exceeding the posted speed limit by more than 10 mph averaged 8.9 percent lower on streets with photo radar than on the streets where photo radar was discontinued; and,
  • Eighty-fifth percentile speeds averaged 1.8 mph lower on streets with photo radar compared to streets where photo radar was discontinued.
Neither city was able to evaluate photo radar's effect on reducing collisions because collision statistics for the demonstration period are not yet available.
 
ADMINISTRATIVE PROCESS
 
The administrative process includes citation issuance, delivery, payment and adjudication, the impact on court and police processes, and fiscal impact.
 
Citation Issuance
 
Speeders are issued citations following a multi-step process that ensures that the violation photograph, the violation data, and the ownership information are as accurate as possible. If any of this evidence and information do not meet stringent quality control standards, citations are not issued. Approximately 50-55% of violations observed resulted in actual citations or warning letters during the demonstration period. Photo radar citations now account for 25 percent of the total moving violation citations issued by the Portland Police Bureau and 75 percent of the total moving violation citations issued by the Beaverton Police Department. However, the issue rate for Portland and Beaverton is lower than originally anticipated for a variety of reasons, some within the Cities control, and some outside their control. Tables 2 and 3 summarize the statistics for the first nine months of the photo radar program.
 
TABLE 2 Summary of Violations and Citations, Beaverton
  BEAVERTON BEAVERTON
February–September 1996* Number Percent of Total Violations
Hours of Operation 1,055 n/a
Locations Visited 150 n/a
Violations Witnessed 12,461 100%
Citations and Warning Letters Issued 6,911 55%
Citations Issued 6,405 51%
Warning Letters Issued 506 4%
Average Violations Per Hour 13 n/a
Average Citations Per Hour 7 n/a


TABLE 2 Summary of Violations and Citations, Portland
  PORTLAND PORTLAND
February–September 1996* Number Percent of Total Violations
Hours of Operation 1,022 n/a
Locations Visited 250 n/a
Violations Witnessed 19,385 100%
Citations and Warning Letters Issued 9,752 50%
Citations Issued 8,966 46%
Warning Letters Issued 786 4%
Average Violations Per Hour 22 n/a
Average Citations Per Hour 11 n/a
* The Cities issued warning letters in January 1996 the first month of the program.

TABLE 3 Non-issued Citations, Beaverton
  BEAVERTON BEAVERTON
Reason for Non-issue Number Percent of Total Violations
Driver or license plate
not identifiable from the photo*
2,963 23.7%
Citation could not be issued within
6 business days**
1,213 9.7%
Driver information from DMV does not match photo 517 4.2%
No DMV information 374 3%
Other*** 483 3.9%
Total 5,550 44.5%


TABLE 3 Non-issued Citations, Portland
  PORTLAND PORTLAND
Reason for
Non-issue
Number Percent of Total Violations
Driver or license plate
not identifiable from the photo*
4,778 24.7%
Citation could not be issued within
6 business days**
1,756 9.1%
Driver information from DMV does not match photo 1,061 5.4%
No DMV information 940 4.8%
Other*** 1,098 5.7%
Total 9,633 49.7%


* The most common reasons are dark interior, windshield glare and obstructed license plate.
** The photo radar statute mandates that citations be delivered in 6 business days. Impediments to meeting this deadline include inability to obtain ownership information from DMV due to computer problems, availability of officers to sign citations, and any processing equipment malfunction.
*** These include film problems and test photos, operator error, and emergency vehicles.
 
Citation Delivery, Payment & Adjudication
 
Most people who received a citation paid it. Average payment was $71 in Beaverton and $66 in Portland. Registered owners who submitted a certificate of innocence correctly completed the form 98 percent of the time, though 13 percent did not include a copy of the front of their drivers' license. In addition, at least 9 percent of registered owners submitting certificates of innocence falsely represented themselves. Table 4 summarize the manner in which citations recipients resolved their citations.
 
TABLE 4 Manner In Which Citation Recipients Resolved Their Citations
  BEAVERTON PORTLAND
Returned Mail 4% 2%
Failure to Respond 5% 6%
Court 3% 2%
Certificate of Innocence 14% 16%
Payment 74% 74%


 
Court Trials
 
Three percent of the citation recipients in Beaverton and 2 percent in Portland requested a court trial. The photographic evidence supported by police testimony has resulted in high conviction rates in the courtroom. No one has appealed a case and neither Cities' court has received a serious legal challenge to photo radar use.
 
Affect on Police and Court Operations
 
While photo radar gave police a flexible new tool, it also created new challenges, including scheduling conflicts, increased court time, and tedium. Photo radar also increased citation volume, data entry, and processing requirements on the courts. Both the police and the courts have successfully addressed these challenges.
 
Fiscal Impact
 
Fiscally, photo radar is presently not generating significant revenue for the Cities, though it does generate revenue for the state and county general funds. From February to September the City of Beaverton realized $61,929 in net revenue, not including court and police officer costs. The City of Portland has subsidized the Portland photo radar program with $58,000 through September 1996, not including police officer costs. The fact that Beaverton uses a municipal court and Portland uses a district court is the primary reason for this revenue difference.
 
Conclusions
 
Photo radar is a highly efficient speed enforcement tool
  • Photo radar is a highly efficient speed enforcement tool. Photo radar operation is accurate and easy to use. Photo radar allows police to better deploy limited resources to respond to community demands and complaints. It gives officers a safe, accurate way to enforce speed laws. It allows officers to ticket speeders in a nondiscriminatory way and provides substantial evidence that strengthens officer court testimony. Photo radar also increases the number of citations an individual officer can issue, thus expanding the enforcement presence of each officer using photo radar.
The public strongly supports photo radar
  • Public support for photo radar is high. The public opinion surveys and hotline results clearly show that people are aware that the police use photo radar in their speed enforcement efforts and the public supports that use.
  • Photo radar is an effective community policing tool. Photo radar addresses residential concerns about speeding at many locations in neighborhoods and school zones. Officers that operate photo radar have received tremendous positive response from the neighborhoods they visited.
Photo radar helps reduce both average speeds and excessive speeding
  • Police using photo radar reduce speeds in neighborhoods. Both Cities' traffic safety studies document that speeds decreased on streets with photo radar and increased on streets without photo radar. Photo radar slows down the fastest drivers, who cause the most damage in a crash, by lowering the percentage of vehicles significantly exceeding the speed limit.
  • Photo radar continues to slow drivers at least one week after deployment. Beaverton's traffic safety study shows that photo radar continues to slow speeders for at least a week after its deployment at a location.
  • Intensive photo radar deployment is most effective. Intensive photo radar deployment regularly reminds motorists to slow down. Portland's study showed that the more visibly police use photo radar, the greater its effect on reducing speeds.
Photo radar expanded traffic enforcement
  • Photo radar increases an officer's ability to issue citations. During the evaluation period officers in residential areas and in school zones issued two to three times as many citations with photo radar as with traditional radar enforcement.
  • Officers issued citations for over half the violations they observed. A variety of reasons prevented the issuance of citations, many of which the Cities cannot control including obstructed view of driver, lack of license plate, lack of DMV information on file and DMV computer problems. The Cities have identified the areas in which they can improve issue rates, and they have and will continue to implement processes to do so. These include improved officer scheduling in order to sign citations in a timely manner, identification of sites and times of day where lighting affects photographic quality, and officer training.
Both Cities effectively developed and managed the administration of the photo radar program
  • The Cities delivered the citations to the correct registered owner. The majority of registered owners receiving citations were in fact the driver of the vehicle at the time of the violation. When the registered owner was not the driver, they completed and returned the certificate of innocence form with minimal problems.
  • Some people are falsely submitting a certificate of innocence when in actuality they were the drivers at the time of the violation. Under the current photo radar statute, the Cities do not have any legal authority to hold these people responsible for the citation.
  • Most citation recipients are paying the citations. Only a few citation recipients are requesting a court trial.
  • Photo radar is not a revenue generator for the Cities. Given the fines levied, the revenue sharing requirements and levels of use, neither city completely covered the costs of the program with the photo radar fine revenue.
Recommendations
 
Overall Recommendations
  • Continue to use photo radar in the Cities of Portland and Beaverton. Photo radar is an effective means to influence driver behavior and slow speeding traffic. (Would require legislative action.)
  • Expand the program within Portland and Beaverton. Currently Portland and Beaverton each operate only one photo radar vehicle. More photo radar vehicles will expand police enforcement presence, increase photo radar's visibility, and reduce speeding.
  • Consider allowing other jurisdictions to use photo radar. Photo radar is an effective speed enforcement tool and its use in other jurisdictions should be considered. (Would require legislative action.)
Public Acceptance Recommendations
  • Continue to inform and educate the public about photo radar. High public acceptance of photo radar is due to public awareness of how and why the police are using photo radar. The Cities should continue to relay this message as part of their educational strategy to encourage drivers to slow down.
  • Continue to include residents in the program. Resident involvement played a vital role in getting and championing the program. Continue to actively involve residents in the development of the photo radar program.
  • Issue citations to businesses and public agencies. Residents expressed considerable support for treating businesses and public agencies the same as individuals. Issuing citations instead of warning letters to business and public agencies will make the program more equitable. (Would require legislative action.)
Traffic Safety Recommendations
  • Allow photo radar on streets with more accidents. Portland's traffic study recommended using photo radar on streets with more accidents which are usually higher volume streets. Photo radar use on higher volume streets will expose more motorists to photo radar and increase its effectiveness. By reducing speeding on high volume streets, the number and severity of accidents can be expected to decline. (Would require legislative action.)
  • Increase deployment effectiveness by determining how long photo radar should be in one location for maximum benefit. Neither Cities' study determined the appropriate length of time photo radar needed to be deployed in a given location to achieve maximum behavior modification. This information would allow police to better target deployment and maximize their effectiveness.
Administrative Recommendations
  • Allow the Cities to enforce a consequence against individuals who falsely represents themselves on the certificate of innocence. Most individuals truthfully complete a certificate of innocence. However, those who falsely represent themselves on the certificate of innocence cannot be held responsible for the citation. This means there is nothing to encourage individuals to be truthful. (Would require legislative action.)