In the last decade, red light cameras in the United States have popped-up in many cities. And they have also entered the spot light as one of the more controversial traffic enforcement methods. The current raging debate involves both the efficacy of these devices as well as the legality of surveillance devices in general. Anyone who has taken online drivers ed knows that you have to stop for a red light. And drivers running red lights are the cause of many injuries and fatalities. However, there is more to the story so let's take a look at some of the information.
From the large number of studies performed over the last 20 years, the effect of red light cameras is far from conclusive. In some studies they lower side collisions but actually increase rear-end collisions. Here's a list of some of the studies performed and their general outcome:
- A study from the U.S. Federal Highway Administration in 2005 showed the number of collisions unchanged. Right-angle crashes decreased while rear-end collisions increased. In terms of cost, they showed that average collision cost actually increased when red light cameras were in use.
- In a 2004 North Carolina A & T University study the results showed that the overall number of crashes increased by 40%.
- The Virginia Department Of Transportation, in a study of the long term effects from red light cameras, showed an overall increase in the number of crashes causing injuries. It also showed that the effects of these cameras vary greatly from intersection to intersection.
- The conclusions of a 2010 Arizona statewide study of the 76 operational red light cameras resulted in the state not renewing the program for 2011. Cited were mixed results, lower than expected revenues, and mixed public opinion.
- The research from the U.S. Federal Highway Administration, cited above, is one of the more positive studies but has come under fire for a conflict of interest as one of the directors also performed research for the Insurance Institute For Highway Safety (IIHS), which is seen as a potentially biased organization.
After looking through the research further, we found no study in North America that showed a clear win for red light cameras. The more controversial aspects of red light cameras are that they are seen as a revenue source and impeding on the privacy rights of citizens. Given the above studies showing limited success of red light cameras to actually increase highway safety it is hard to justify their use over the objections of privacy and costs.