Gridlock Guy: Fewer red light cameras mean more traffic fatalities

In the last decade we’ve seen an explosion and then a huge reduction of local jurisdictions using red light cameras. The cameras that take pictures of people running red lights. Originally thought to be a way to limit the number of people running red lights, public backlash deeming them simply revenue generators, caused many cities to remove them.

What has that removal meant to traffic safety? According to a new study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety once the cameras were removed, traffic accidents and deaths rose significantly.

“When cities turn off red light cameras, fatal red light-running crashes shoot up by as much as 30 percent,” said Russ Rader, senior vice president of the IIHS.

According to the data there was a 30 percent increase in deaths due to crashes with red-light runners and a 16 percent increase in deaths from other collisions.

The IIHS studied 14 cities that took away red light cameras and compared them to 29 different cities that had similar population and traffic patterns. The statistics showed that when the cameras were removed, the intersections became less safe.

From what I’ve found, people that have been ticketed by the cameras tend to be the most opposed to their existence.

“People don’t like to get tickets,” Rader said. “And when they’re guaranteed they’re going to get a ticket if they run a red light, they’re less likely to do it.”

Critics of the red light cameras, calling them merely revenue generators, have had a huge impact on their decline. In the last five years 158 communities in the U.S. have removed them.

How big of a problem is red light running? In 2014 red light running crashes led to 709 deaths and 126,000 injuries.

According to the IIHS study, cities that installed red light cameras saw a 14 percent decrease in such deaths.

Personally, I never really know what intersections have red light cameras and which don’t. When I’m driving I just assume that every intersection has them and drive accordingly.

Red light cameras are hardly a new thing. The first ones debuted in the Netherlands in the 1960s. They first made their impact stateside in the 1980s in New York City. As technology advanced and the cameras became better and more affordable, they spread throughout the country.

As they became more common place and more and more people started to get tickets for getting red lights, the backlash against them began. There have been legitimate issues with red light cameras ticketing drivers making legal right turns on red lights and sometimes ticketing cars that didn’t run red lights but instead stopped at the light but were partially in the crosswalk. These types of tickets did not make drivers happy.

“Debates over automated enforcement often center on the hassle of getting a ticket and paying a fine,” said IIHS President Adrian Lund in a statement. “It’s important to remember that there are hundreds of people walking around who wouldn’t be here if not for red light cameras. Sadly, there are 63 families who are missing a loved one because these life-saving programs were canceled.”