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Thursday, September 24, 2009
Red Light Cameras; Are They Worth the Legal Problems?
One issue that is not really in dispute is the fact that red light running has grown to epidemic proportions in the U.S. According to studies cited by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS);
- 55.8 percent of Americans admit to running red lights; yet;
- 96 percent of drivers were afraid of being hit by a red light runner.
- In 2007, almost 900 people were killed and an estimated 153,000 were injured in crashes that involved red light running.
- About half of the deaths in red light running crashes are pedestrians and occupants in other vehicles who are hit by the red light runners.
- Motorists are more likely to be injured in urban crashes involving red light running than in other types of urban crashes.
- Occupant injuries occurred in 45 percent of red light running crashes, compared with 30 percent of other crash types.
- Analysis of red light violation data from 19 intersections (without red light cameras) in four states found that, per intersection, motorists ran red lights at an average rate of 3.2 per hour.
Red Light Cameras Increase Rather Than Reduce Collisions at Red Lights
Some have claimed that use of red light cameras actually increase the number of rear end collisions because drivers don't expect someone ahead to stop for a yellow light; however the facts don't bear that out. According to the National Campaign to Stop Red Light Running, the opposite is true. Their web site lists the following figures for some cities that operate red light cameras:
- New Orleans, LA - red light cameras led to an 85% drop in red light running and speed cameras led to an 84% drop in speeding.
- Montgomery County, MD - relative to comparison sites drivers traveling more than 10 mph above posted speed limits declined by about 70% at locations with both warning signs and speed camera enforcement.
- Council Bluffs, IA - a 90% reduction in red light running crashes.
- Washington, DC - red light running fatalities were reduced from 16 to 2 in the first two years of red light cameras.
- Fairfax, VA - a 44% reduction in red light running crashes.
- Oxnard, CA - a 22% reduction in red light crashes citywide.
- New York City - a 34% reduction in red light violations.
Red Light Cameras Are Just A Way for Cities to Make More Money
Some municipalities did experience an increase in revenue after installing cameras and found them to be a profitable enterprise; at first. However, after drivers realized cameras were installed and started stopping for red lights, revenues fell sharply; in some cases, costing more money than they earned. Cities that install cameras as a revenue generator are installing them for the wrong reasons and will certainly be disappointed. Cities who install the cameras to cut down on the death and injury rate at intersections find that they pay off in other ways:
- The cost of posting police officers at each intersection 24 hours a day would be prohibitive.
- Fewer collisions lead to lower costs for law enforcement and fire/rescue services.
- Fewer collisions mean fewer traffic jams and greater productivity.
- Fewer injuries mean lower hospital and emergency room costs for taxpayers.
- New Federal Highway Administration research estimates total societal cost reductions from red light cameras to be over $14 million per year, or $38,000 for each U.S. red light camera location.
California, recognizing that the purpose of red light cameras is to save lives, passed a law that keeps cities from installing cameras in order to generate revenue and their law could serve as a model for other states. California’s red light camera law requires that municipalities issue warning tickets only for the first 30 days that a camera is in operation. This gives motorists time to realize the camera is there and stop on their own. The law also requires that the contract between a city and a camera operator cannot provide any financial incentive to the operator to issue more tickets.
Red Lights Are an Invasion of Privacy
The Supreme Court has held that there is not a reasonable expectation of privacy when an individual is in public; someone who is breaking the law on a city street should not be able to hide behind the Fourth Amendment. Red light cameras do not run constantly and do not take pictures of every vehicle. They only take photos of cars that are running the red light. Motorists who stop for the red light don’t have to fear that the camera will take their picture.
State Supreme Courts are divided on this issue with some courts deciding that use of cameras violate state law as currently written and other state courts finding that municipalities can use the cameras even if state law says nothing about the issue.
States could solve the legal issues surrounding red light camera by creating legislation and providing policy guidance to cities. The Governor's Highway Administration web site provides a lot of information on the issue along with policy and guidance for states. It's hard to calculate the cost of lives, injuries, and property damage that never happen. If this technology can save one life, it is worth the cost.