The Decline of Red Light Cameras: Do They Really Keep Our Roads Safe?
By: Good2GoPublished: December 15, 2014
Red light running is a dangerous habit that many drivers are guilty of committing. According to the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety, red light runners caused 683 deaths and an estimated 133,000 injuries in 2012.A majority of those killed were pedestrians, bicyclists and people in other vehicles.
The solution to reduce red light running? Red light cameras. These cameras have been put into place at hundreds of intersections in 24 states and the District of Columbia, but are these cameras doing more harm than good? And why are cities considering removing RLCs altogether?
Brief history of red light cameras
Red light cameras are a type of law enforcement camera that takes a picture of a vehicle that has passed through an intersection while the traffic light is red. They operate on an automated system that reduces the need for traffic cops on busy roadways.
These cameras are connected to the traffic signal and use sensors to monitor traffic flow just before the crosswalk or stop line. The camera snaps a photo of the car once it enters the intersection after the traffic signal has turned red. When the photo has been received by law enforcement officials, they will then determine if you committed a traffic violation. Violators will receive their ticket in the mail.
The first implementation of red light cameras started in the 1960s in the Netherlands and in other countries outside of the U.S. It wasn’t until 1993 when the first U.S. red light camera bill went into effect in New York City. Back then, film cameras were used to capture violators. Today, all systems are digital.
State red light camera enforcement
Not every state in the United States has laws or programs permitting the use of red light cameras. For the 21 states that do allow the use of some form of red light camera, the penalty fee can range from $40 – $1,000 depending on the number of offenses and the zone in which you were driving.
Red light camera use has increased dramatically since the first camera program went into effect in New York City over 20 years ago. At its peak, there were 540 programs nationwide. As of December 2014, there are 495 communities with red light camera programs. Last year, there were 503. This decline in programs comes at a time where state officials are challenging the true effectiveness and safety of red light cameras.
For example, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie saw red light cameras as a way to boost traditional traffic enforcement and keep motorists safe on New Jersey roads. But now the Governor feels that these programs have become more of a nuisance. After a five-year trial period that expires this December, if the results of red light cameras don’t persuade Christie that RLCs are a necessity, he will not renew it.
Other reasons why some communities are discontinuing their red light camera programs include general community opposition and the financial stability of running the program. There has also been an ongoing debate about the primary reason these cameras are installed. While authorities site that red light cameras in addition to speed cameras are for public safety, others are concerned that the fines collected from red light running citations are just another revenue stream for cities. For example, Florida raised over $100 million in revenue from red light tickets in 2013.
Do these initiatives improve safety?
While the primary goal of red light cameras is to make the roads safer, the presence of these cameras has actually caused accidents. Some studies have reported that while red light cameras reduce front-side collisions and overall crashes, they also increase rear-end collisions. That’s because drivers who see the flash from the camera of a driver caught running a red light will slam on their brakes to avoid crossing the intersection, causing the driver behind them to rear-end the vehicle. However, these crashes tend to be less severe than front-into-side crashes.
A study sponsored by the Federal Highway Administration found that, overall, right-angle crashes decreased by 25% while rear-end collisions increased by 15%. The authors of the study concluded that the benefits of the decrease in right-angle crashes outweigh the economic costs of the increase in rear-end crashes.
The presence of these cameras also – not surprisingly so – reduce red light violations. A series of IIHS studies in different communities found that red light violations are reduced significantly with cameras. For instance, studies in Oxnard, CA and Fairfax, VA reported reductions in red light violation rates of about 40% after the introduction of red light cameras.
To read more about red light camera studies, click here.
Do you think red light cameras help keep our roads safer? Or do you think your community would be better off without them? Let us know in the comments section below.
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