February 20, 2007

Red-light cameras effectively reduce violations, study shows

Arlington, Virginia – A new report by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) shows that red-light cameras effectively reduce red-light violations at intersections. The study involved locations in Philadelphia that were identified as some of the highest crash locations in the U.S.

Researchers separated the camera effects from the effects of extending yellow lights and found that the camera made the biggest difference in eliminating violations.

“Violations virtually disappeared at the six approaches to the two intersections we studied,” says Richard Retting, lead author of the study. “This decrease in violations is all the more remarkable because the intersections were such high crash locations. In fact, they had been identified as having some of the highest crash rates in the nation.”

Researchers tallied signal violation rates at intersections before and after extension of yellow lights, and again after red light camera enforcement had been in effect for about a year. The longer yellow lights reduced violations by 36 per cent, but the camera reduced violations by 96 per cent. Violations did not change at intersections studied that did not have cameras.

IIHS says that red light running causes about 800 deaths per year in the U.S., half of them pedestrians. Another 165,000 people are estimated to be injured in red light crashes each year. The cameras help by deterring violators and thus avoiding crashes. The Philadelphia legislation authorizing camera use, passed in 2004, requires photos of the rear license plates of violators, but not pictures of the motorists. Owners of the identified vehicles are subject to US$100 fines.

The cameras are identified by conspicuous signs which warn motorists as they approach the intersections. “This policy flies in the face of red light camera critics who claim the cameras are all about catching people, writing lots of tickets, and raising money,” Retting says. “The true purpose of cameras is to reduce crashes by getting motorists to stop at red lights, so the most successful programs don’t produce any revenue at all.”

The study also states that the results rebut camera opponents who insist that lengthening yellow light signals alone are sufficient to reduce intersection crashes.

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