Red Light Cameras Increase Accidents
Instead of increasing traffic safety, which is their purported purpose, red light cameras increase the number of accidents at intersections by 28%; this news comes from a comprehensive studied carried out at the University of South Florida (USF) in 2008, and updated in 2011. The 2008 study, led by Barbara Langland-Orban, PhD, concluded: “Rather than improving motorist safety, red-light cameras significantly increase crashes and are a ticket to higher auto insurance premiums.” The researchers, from USF’s College of Public Health, recommend instead trying engineering solutions to improve intersection safety (particularly important to Florida’s elderly drivers).
Red light cameras actively increase crashes, injuries, and property damage; drivers attempt to abruptly stop at camera intersections to avoid a ticket. “The rigorous studies clearly show red-light cameras don’t work,” said Langland-Orban, professor and chair of health policy and management at the USF College of Public Health. In the 2011 update, the authors added, “It is important for the public at large and federal, state, and local officials to understand that motor vehicle safety is advanced through evidence-based methods. Attempts to generate revenue through traffic citations are directly contrary to public safety since infractions are increased by improper roadway engineering, creating hazards and expense for the public.” Red light cameras are a fairly recent revenue stream for governments and for companies that produce the cameras; for motorists, they’re a hidden tax.
Unfortunately, the media has been complicit in promoting red light cameras. From the USF 2011 study: “One journal reporter, who requested anonymity, revealed that the media can be a source of misinformation on RLCs. She disclosed that special interests that profit from cameras have threatened to reduce or withdraw their advertising revenues if the news is not reported that RLCs provide a safety benefit.”
The USF study is not the only evidence that RLCs encourage crashes; thorough studies from North Carolina, Virginia, and Ontario have all found that cameras are significantly associated with increases in crashes, and in crashes involving injuries. The Virginia Transportation Research Council also found that RLCs were linked to higher crash costs. Not surprisingly, the leading supporter of red light cameras is the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (funded by automobile insurance companies); the IIHS tried its own studies, which concluded cameras reduced crashes or injuries—in independent reviews, these studies were found to have incomplete data or inadequate analyses. Automobile insurance companies profit nicely from red light cameras; any time someone they insure gets ticketed, the person’s policy automatically goes up.
In Florida, a place that can least afford more automobile accidents, the legislature is considering HB 4011, to repeal the use of red light cameras in the state.
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