Traffic cameras reduce collisions at city's intersections

This sign is posted on 1st Avenue South near Panther Lake Elementary School and Winco in Federal Way. - File photo
This sign is posted on 1st Avenue South near Panther Lake Elementary School and Winco in Federal Way.
— image credit: File photo

Federal Way Police Chief Brian Wilson said the city's traffic camera enforcement program is having its intended effect of increasing safety at various intersections and school zones throughout the city.

Likewise, most red-light and school zone violations are committed by non-residents of Federal Way.

"From 2009-2011…we have seen reductions in collision events at these intersections following the implementation of the camera systems," said  Wilson as he reviewed the program during the city council's Jan. 2 meeting.

According to statistics compiled by FWPD, between 2009-11 there was a 47 percent reduction in collisions at the intersection of South 348th Street and Enchanted Parkway.

At the intersection of 320th Street and Pacific Highway South, there was a 58 percent reduction in collisions. At 312th Street and Pacific Highway, there was a 13 percent reduction.

Between 2010 and 2011, Wilson noted a similar pattern of reduced collision rates for each of the three intersections:

• 35 percent reduction for 348th Street and Enchanted Parkway

• 58 percent reduction for 320th Street and Pacific Highway

• 40 percent reduction at 312th Street and Pacific Highway

One of the biggest bones of contention between Federal Way residents and the city over the photo enforcement system has come from the three school zones that are photo enforced: Twin Lakes Elementary, Saghalie Middle School and Panther Lake Elementary.

Wilson reiterated the reliability of those systems.

"In terms of the operational integrity of the system, that has always been maintained. Any time we have shut down the system for one reason or another, it's been to ensure that the process that's being followed is meeting our high standards," Wilson said at the meeting. "So if there was any question about a violation, or that the system wasn't operating properly, even a question about that, we would take steps to have those violations dismissed."

"We've never had a faulty system that's resulted in citizens being inappropriately cited," he added.

Wilson said there were 87,632 violations recorded by the photo enforcement program between September 2008 to December 2012. The intersection with the most violations in that period was southbound 320th/Pacific Highway, with 14,103 violations. Westbound 320th/Pacific Highway saw 11,838 violations in those four years, while eastbound 348th/Enchanted Parkway saw 11,981 violations. The school zone with the most violations was Panther Lake with 9,093.

There have been few repeat offenders, Wilson said, with 87.8 percent of those violations made up of one-time offenders. Federal Way residents only make up 32.7 percent of the total offenders since the program's inception.

"The vast majority of violations are committed by citizens who do not reside in the city of Federal Way," Wilson said.

For the three major intersections already touched on, Wilson said there is a general downward trend in violations at those intersections. For school zones, the pattern is basically reversed, but Wilson attributed that to the fact that the school zone camera systems have been in operation a shorter period of time, and have had periods of time where they weren't functioning correctly, so people aren't as adjusted to those camera systems as they are at the major intersections.

The police chief also touched on the impression that some people have that photo enforcement systems may actually increase danger to drivers because of the need to slam on the brakes when a light changes.

In Federal Way's experience, this hasn't been the case so far.

"We have found no perceptible negative impacts to traffic flow," he said. "There's been 60,340 red-light violation events reviewed with no resulting rear-end collisions."

Wilson conceded that there is still work to do for the system, especially at some of the school zones. He and other city officials are exploring options to increase signage or install another light system to alert people that they're entering a school zone, especially at Panther Lake on 1st Avenue South.


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