Insurance Institute Study: Red Light Cameras Reduce Traffic Deaths

Many intersections with red light cameras are marked, but that's not enough to appease drivers intent on breaking the law and getting away with it. Photo: ##http://www2.tbo.com/content/2009/mar/05/hillsborough-preps-red-light-cameras-temple-terrac/c_1/##Tampa Tribune##

A new study shows that, despite their supposed reputation as government revenue collectors, red light cameras are saving lives.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that red light cameras prevented 159 deaths between 2004 and 2008 in 14 of the largest cities in the U.S., and that 815 deaths would have been prevented had cameras been operating in all U.S. cities with a population of over 200,000.

Says the IIHS:

The researchers found that in the 14 cities that had cameras during 2004-08, the combined per capita rate of fatal red light running crashes fell 35 percent, compared with 1992-96. The rate also fell in the 48 cities without camera programs in either period, but only by 14 percent.

Based on that comparison, the researchers concluded that the rate of fatal red light running crashes in cities with cameras in 2004-08 was 24 percent lower than it would have been without cameras. That adds up to 74 fewer fatal red light running crashes or, given the average number of fatalities per red light running crash, approximately 83 lives saved.

The study also found that crashes in cities with red light cams declined even at signalized intersections where no cameras were present — leading to a projected total of 159 lives saved — while collisions in cities that used no cameras showed a slight increase.

The IIHS says criticism of the cameras is overblown and ignores the human toll of traffic collisions. A Washington Post story on the IIHS report notes a AAA survey that found just eight percent of D.C. drivers in opposition to red light cameras. Yet the merits of lifesaving traffic tech tend to be drowned out by the vocal minority. “Somehow, the people who get tickets because they have broken the law have been cast as the victims,” says Adrian Lund, president of IIHS. “We rarely hear about the real victims — the people who are killed or injured by these lawbreakers.”

Most of those victims are not the drivers who cause the collisions. Nearly two-thirds of those killed by red light runners in 2009 were occupants of other vehicles, passengers in the red light runners’ vehicles, pedestrians or cyclists.

As if to prove Lund’s point, the Post reports that two Virginia lawmakers have proposed legislation restricting cities’ use of red light cameras in their state. In contrast to AAA’s New York branch, which recently panned efforts to step up automated speed enforcement, AAA Mid-Atlantic supports red light cameras, and has denounced the Virginia bills.

  • Josh

    A program that pays for itself by reducing pointless deaths? That’ll appeal to everyone, except the Republican Party.

  • Ian Turner

    What I recall is that red light cameras increase the overall number of crashes, but decrease the number of fatal ones. That’s because they nearly eliminate T-bone collisions but increase the number of rear-end crashes as people brake aggressively at yellow lights. The solution to this is to increase yellow light time (to provide a generous stopping time) concurrent with camera installation. Unfortunately, in some jurisdictions where cameras installation is done by revenue-sharing contractors, yellow light times have actually been shortened so as to bring in more revenue. As always, what you do is only as good as how you do it.

    Cheers,

    –Ian

  • rlb

    There should be a line on the street indicating whether or not you will make the yellow light. Assuming you are travelling the speed limit of course.

  • Ian Turner

    rlb, interesting idea. Though, of course, stopping distance depends on a variety of factors including vehicle, cargo or passenger load, road condition, and weather.

  • Aunt_Bike

    Somebody above mentioned “That’s because they (red light cams) nearly eliminate T-bone collisions but increase the number of rear-end crashes as people brake aggressively at yellow lights”.

    That may be true or not. I don’t know. I do know that I wouldn’t blame the red light cam for those rear end collisions.

    In New York State, a steady yellow traffic signal means “prepare to stop”. It’s in the NYDVM manual. It doesn’t mean keep going to squeeze through on the yellow, it doesn’t mean step on the gas to beat the red. It means prepare to stop. In all my conversations with NY drivers, I have yet to meet one that knows this.

    So, if you obey the law by preparing to stop, and some knucklehead hits you in the rear, blame the knucklehead, not the cam.

  • Ian Turner

    Aunt Bike, didn’t mean to place blame anywhere, just outlining the consequences of installing cameras.

    Cheers,

    –Ian

  • Aunt_Bike

    Ian Turner –

    Thank you for the response. Regarding decreased yellow light time for increased revenue, do you know if that has been done in NY state? I know that’s a sticking point for the anti cam folks in states like Arizona. I’d appreciate any and all input on the issue.

  • Personally I find stop light cam’s fascinating, I mean some drivers think nothing of running a red light “beep beep and away they go + the possibility of causing a horrible accident. But they’ll take more care not run a red light to avoid paying a fine.

  • Ian Turner

    Aunt Bike, I don’t recall exactly where this practice has been put into place. I do recall that it has been done by profit-sharing red light contractors without explicit governmental approval, so if New York State engages in profit sharing, then it seems likely. Googling will probably reveal more info. Sorry I can’t be more helpful.

  • Andrew

    Ian Turner:

    I’ve certainly seen reports of that problem elsewhere.

    Lengthening the yellow is appropriate if the yellow was too short. It won’t help if the yellow wasn’t too short, and it might hurt. In NYC, most yellows are 3 seconds long, which is appropriate for NYC’s 30 mph speed limit.

  • Statsdude

    my understanding is that the length of yellow is a formula based on the speed limit on the street. If it is shortened below the minimum called for in the formula, then the driver given the ticket may have cause to fight the ticket.

    I am not a lawyer, so don’t try this on your street and then blame me.

  • Getmele

    What?  Josh, I’m offended by that statement!  I think it’s great if it serves its purpose.  What I really want to know is how much revenue has been collected and where is the money going? 

  • Jessica bedingfield

    I think red-light cameras are a lifesaver.

  • Digiphotous

    they should extend the time on the yellow light….this is too controversial, where is the money going?, my neighborhood has a camera that makes $5.000ish a day..!!!
    see,we are competing against computers…

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