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Red light cameras and traffic safety

Earlier this week, I received a comment on this post about red light cameras from a fellow named Reed Berry, who said he’d had a radio debate with local camera opponent Michael Kubosh. I’ve had a pleasant exchange of emails with Mr. Berry since then, and am awaiting an MP3 of the broadcast, which I will post for you when I get it.

In the meantime, Berry also sent me these two links (PDF) on the subject of how red light cameras affect accident and injury rates. I’ll quote a bit from the latter, which is taken from a statement before the Ohio Senate Committee on Highways and Transportation given by Anne T. McCartt of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety:

The key question is, would wide use of such cameras improve the safety of our urban streets? Findings from Institute research indicate they do. Significant citywide crash reductions followed the introduction of red light cameras in Oxnard, California. This is the major finding of the first U.S. research on the effects of camera enforcement on intersection crashes.5 Injury crashes at intersections with traffic signals were reduced by 29 percent after camera enforcement began in Oxnard in 1997. Front-into-side collisions – the crash type that is most closely associated with
red light running – were reduced by 32 percent overall, and front-into-side crashes involving injuries were reduced 68 percent. Crashes declined throughout Oxnard even though only 11 of the city’s 125 intersections with traffic signals were equipped with cameras. Previous studies of red light running violations in Oxnard and elsewhere found similar spillover effects. That is, the violations dropped in about the same proportions at intersections with and without cameras, attesting to the strong deterrent value of red light cameras and their ability to change driver behavior.

Institute research based on a review of the international literature provides further evidence that red light cameras can significantly reduce violations and related injury crashes. A detailed assessment of international studies of camera effectiveness indicates that red light camera enforcement generally reduces violations by an estimated 40-50 percent and reduces overall injury crashes by 25-30 percent.

A 2005 study sponsored by the Federal Highway Administration evaluated red light camera programs in seven communities (El Cajon, San Diego, and San Francisco, California; Howard County, Montgomery County, and Baltimore, Maryland; and Charlotte, North Carolina). The study found that, overall, right-angle crashes decreased by 25 percent while rear-end collisions increased by 15 percent. Because the types of crashes prevented by red light cameras tend to be more severe and more costly than the additional rear-end crashes that can occur, the study found a positive societal benefit of more than $14 million. The authors concluded that the increase in rear-end crash frequency does not offset the societal benefit resulting from the decrease in right-angle crashes targeted by red light cameras.

A 2003 report conducted for the Ontario Ministry of Transportation evaluated a two-year pilot program using red light cameras in six communities in Ontario. The study found a 6.8 percent decrease in fatal and injury collisions and a 18.5 percent increase in property-damage-only collisions. As with the Federal Highway Administration study, the researchers found that the positive societal benefits resulting from the decrease in fatal and injury crashes was not offset by the increase in property-damage-only crashes. The report concluded that the program “has been shown to be an effective tool in reducing fatal and injury collisions, thereby preventing injuries and saving lives” and recommended its continuation. Based on the results of the pilot program, Ontario’s Transportation Minister authorized the use of red light cameras throughout Ontario.

There’s quite a bit more there, so check it out. I find they’re way too blase about privacy concerns for my taste, but the information about collisions is something I’ve been very interested in. I still want to know what the effect is here in Houston, so I hope some similar research is done. Let me know what you think about this.

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  1. Mathwiz says:

    I suspect I’m not alone in having mixed feelings about traffic cameras. I think they can be a good thing, but also that safeguards need to be in place to prevent “mission creep” from traffic law enforment toward such things as revenue collection (as seems to have been the primary motivation in San Diego, where the fines were $271 at one point!) or worse: “Big Brother” abuses like using the cameras to track the comings and goings of citizens who aren’t suspected of any wrongdoing – mostly a hypothetical concern today, but given the country’s mostly blase reaction to Bush’s unwarranted wiretapping, who knows what the future brings?

  2. G.F. " Frank " Brown says:

    For more information on Red Light Cameras,you should visit this site:
    Also read the story of the camera company that got busted in Canada for bribing the police to get camera contracts.It’s the same camera company Chief Hurtt has been shilling for.
    As soon as I read the story (March 18,2006) I emailed a Chronicle reporter,Kristen Mack,about it,but there has never been,to my knowledge,a story about those payoffs and/or the possibility of that company doing the same here.