Over the past several years, red light cameras have been a controversial subject among government officials, law enforcement, and the general public. While cameras may reduce the number of drivers who run red lights, the car accidents that some cameras are inadvertently causing have made drivers take note and question just how effective red light cameras are. If the point is to decrease the number of collisions and personal injuries caused by running red lights, how are cameras that contribute to accidents improving the situation?
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) conducted several studies on red light cameras in late 2012, and the resulting data offered some insight into the question of effectiveness. The institute concluded that, yes, the number of traffic violations related to red light runners decreased with the use of cameras, and that crash incidences were also reduced, but that rear-end collisions are a possible result of the cameras as well.
The cameras work by taking a series of photographs of a vehicle as it passes through an intersection after a light has turned red. Once the license plate has been captured, a ticket is mailed to the driver for their offense. Though adding the cameras has made some drivers more careful about running red lights, drivers are also stopping short in an attempt to avoid getting a citation.
While the driver may not be running the light, their abrupt stop can cause the rear vehicle to crash into them. Statistics from a study sponsored by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reflect a 15 percent increase in rear-end collisions in the seven U.S. cities evaluated.
A 2011 study by the IIHS showed a reduction in fatal red light running by 24 percent and a reduction in all types of crashes by 17 percent. On an international level, the institutes research supported a 40-50 percent reduction in red light violations.
In the end, red light cameras may not be the perfect solution to the problem but it could be a step in the right direction. Because rear-impact collisions cause less devastating injuries than side-impact or T-bone crashes typically do, the data suggests the cameras are doing their job to save lives.
Be cautious of coming to a stop at any red light and always signal if you intend to turn right on red. You may not realize the car behind you is anticipating your turn, or that the car in front of you is about to stop abruptly. Be mindful of red light cameras and exercise good judgment when approaching any intersection - the life you save may be your own.