Red Light Cameras Pose Danger to Safety, Studies Find

Published March 8, 2010

Although many elected officials have embraced red light traffic enforcement cameras, purportedly as a safety tool, a survey of red light camera studies shows there are at least nine that raise significant concerns about the cameras, finding they increase accidents instead of preventing them.

Supporters of the cameras claim they make intersections safer by reducing accidents, and they say any money made from the cameras is merely incidental to the primary focus of making intersections safer.

However, a 2008 study by the University of South Florida found, “Comprehensive studies conclude cameras actually increase crashes and injuries, providing a safety argument not to install them…. Public policy should avoid conflicts of interest that enhance revenues for government and private interests at the risk of public safety.”

International Doubt
Studies conducted by the Virginia Department of Transportation, North Carolina A&T University, the Ontario Ministry of Transportation, the Australian Road Research Board, and Monash University in Australia cast a serious pall on the claim red light cameras reduce accidents.

Companies that operate red light cameras, and the communities that use them, have a large financial interest in the issue. For every ticket written, fees can be anywhere from $15-$50 for a red light camera company, based on the level of service provided. The remaining money goes to the government.

Red Speed Illinois and Redflex Traffic Systems have been aggressively promoting a study by the Center for Transportation Research and Education (CTRE) at Iowa State University. A March 2008 article in the Florida Public Health Review criticized the CTRE study for its methodology and small sample size of only three towns. It observed the CTRE study didn’t measure each intersection on a before-and-after basis and the study “failed to demonstrate a credible safety outcome improvement.”

Safety or Money?
Illinois State Senator Dan Duffy (R-Barrington), who is sponsoring SB-2466, a bill to ban red light cameras, says the cameras are about revenue, not safety. Duffy explained, “Ninety percent of tickets statewide are written for right turn on red, and that is not a high-risk activity.”

A 2001 National Highway Transportation Safety Administration report entitled “Analysis of Crossing Path Crashes” revealed a typical motorist “could drive a billion miles before being involved in an accident that resulted from a motorist making a rolling stop on a right-hand turn.”

Nonetheless, municipalities are making the vast majority of their money on rolling right-on-red turns instead of the more dangerous straight-through running of red lights.

10,000 Tickets
In my hometown of Schaumburg, Illinois, more than 10,000 tickets and $1 million in fines were generated in less than three months from a single red light camera-enforced intersection. More than 98 percent of the tickets were written for right-on-red violations.

A public uproar ensued over the camera. Later it was revealed the intersection never had a red-light-running problem to begin with. The intersection had zero accidents caused by red light running in the year prior to installation.

After this revelation the camera was quietly removed and plans for nine additional such cameras were canceled.

At least 853 red light cameras are in operation in Illinois. Schaumberg is the only municipality in the state that has taken down the cameras so far.

‘Profit from Errors’
“Instead of applying proper safety engineering standards, municipalities are using cameras to profit from their own engineering errors,” said Barnet Fagel, a traffic safety researcher with the National Motorists Association. He notes studies from the U.S. House of Representatives, the Texas Transportation Institute, and others show increasing the duration of yellow lights and increasing the “all red” phase to one to two seconds can reduce accidents at intersections by 40 to 80 percent.

Brian Costin ([email protected]) is director of outreach at the Illinois Policy Institute.

Internet Info

“Red Light Running Cameras: Would Crashes, Injuries and Automobile Insurance Rates Increae If They Are Used in Florida?”, Florida Public Health Review: