Arlington, Virginia – Red light cameras set up in 14 of the largest U.S. cities saved 159 lives in 2004 to 2008, according to a new study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The study concluded that 815 deaths would have been prevented had cameras been operating during that period in all large cities.

The study looked at 99 U.S. cities with populations over 200,000 and compared statistics from 1992 to 1996, and then from 2004 to 2008, when the cameras were introduced. Excluded from the study were cities that had cameras during the earlier period, or that had cameras for only part of the later study period.

The researchers found that in the 14 cities that had cameras during 2004 to 2008, the combined per capita rate of fatal red light running crashes fell 35 per cent when compared with 1992 to 1996. The rate also fell in the 48 cities without camera programs in either period, but only by 14 per cent. The researchers concluded that the rate of fatal red light running crashes in cities with cameras in 2004 to 2008 was 24 per cent lower than it would have been without cameras.

The rate of all fatal crashes at intersections with cameras, not just red light running crashes, fell 14 per cent in camera cities and went up two per cent in cities without cameras. In the camera cities, there were 17 per cent fewer fatal crashes per capita at intersections with signals in 2004 to 2008 than would have been expected, which the researchers translated to 159 people alive because of the automated enforcement program.

The result showed that red light cameras reduced not only fatal red light running crashes, but other types of fatal intersection crashes as well. One possible reason is that red light running fatalities are undercounted, due to a lack of witnesses to explain what happened. Drivers also may be more cautious in general when they know there are cameras around.

The IIHS said that since the 1990s, communities have used red light cameras as a low-cost way to police intersections. In 2000, 25 cities used the cameras, while about 500 use them today. National surveys indicate widespread support for the cameras, but opponents have become increasingly vocal, claiming that the cameras are revenue-generating schemes that violate driver privacy, the IIHS said.

Red light running killed 676 people and injured an estimated 113,000 in the U.S. in 2009. Nearly-two thirds of those killed were occupants of other vehicles, passengers in the vehicle running the light, bicyclists or pedestrians.

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