Last week's traffic safety article identified a serious problem - red light running, which claims hundreds of lives in the US every year and injuries over 100,000. However, there is a solution - red light cameras.
Red light cameras have been used to police intersections since the 1990s, according to the February issue of "Status Report" from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). About 500 cities in the U.S. embrace this technology today.
Without cameras, enforcement is difficult and often dangerous. In order to stop a red light runner, officers usually have to follow the vehicle through the red light, endangering themselves as well as other motorists and pedestrians. Moreover, the manpower required to police intersections on a regular basis would make it prohibitively expensive. In contrast, camera programs can pay for themselves by requiring people who break the law to shoulder the cost of enforcing it, according to the IIHS.
Previous research has established that red light cameras deter would-be violators and reduce crashes at intersections with signals. Institute studies of camera programs have found that red light violations fell at intersections where cameras were installed. In two of those studies, researchers also looked at traffic lights without cameras and found the decrease in violations spilled over from the camera-equipped intersections. In Oxnard, Calif., injury crashes at intersections with traffic signals fell 29 percent citywide after automated enforcement began.
The Institute's latest study provides powerful confirmation of the benefits of cameras, showing they reduce deaths throughout entire communities. The rate of fatal red light running crashes in cities with cameras in 2004-08 was 24 percent lower than it would have been without cameras. What's even more interesting is that drivers are likely more cautious when they know that cameras are around. Thus even intersections without cameras become safer.
Unfortunately there are people that oppose cameras. But, driving is a regulated activity on public roads, and by obtaining a license, a motorist agrees to abide by certain rules, such as to obey traffic signals. Neither the law nor common sense suggests drivers should not be observed on the road and have their violations documented. Red light camera systems can be designed to photograph only a vehicle's rear license plate, not vehicle occupants,
Before cameras may be used, state or local laws must authorize enforcement agencies to cite red light violators by mail. The legislation makes the vehicle owner responsible for the ticket. In most cases, this involves establishing a presumption that the registered owner is the vehicle driver at the time of the offense and providing a mechanism for vehicle owners to inform authorities if someone else was driving.
Another option is to treat violations captured by red light cameras as the equivalent of parking tickets. If, as in New York, camera violations are treated like parking citations, the law can make registered vehicle owners responsible without regard to who was driving. Cameras are authorized in about half of U.S. states, including New York.
For more articles on vehicle and traffic law and traffic safety, go to the Traffic Safety Board website at www.franklincony.org/content/Departments/View/24F.
Dave Werner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.