I've been hearing a lot about red light cameras recently. With states continuing to pass legislation that allows their use, they seem to be springing up like dandelions across America's cities.
Many argue that the cameras exist as the modern counterpart to the speed trap. But it seems that the cameras are far from a cash cow for the local governments installing them.
Annually in the United States, approximately 800 people are killed in red light running crashes, and half of those are pedestrians or occupants of the car with the green light. In 2002 alone, over 200,000 crashes and 178,000 injuries occurred due to crashes stemming from red light violations. Indeed, red light running is the leading cause of urban crashes in the United States. Many cities are taking a stand.
Washington, DC saw red light running fatalities drop from 16 to 2 within 2 years of their red light camera program's implementation. Across the Potomac, Fairfax County saw a drop of 44% in red light crashes after installing cameras. According to stopredlightrunning.com violations of red lights in Virginia Beach tripled after the use of red light cameras was suspended.
A former Georgia Congressman, Bob Barr, editorializes that camera enforcement invades privacy and is just about generating revenue. Of course, his comparison between the succession of the Southern states and red light camera opposition is perhaps a little misplaced, but his point is commonplace. The National Motorists Association makes similar points. Still, drivers who obey the law don't need to fear fines, and ideally red light cameras shouldn't generate any revenue. The point of the camera is to reduce, perhaps to zero, the number of red light violations, so when they are working, revenue decreases.
(On a side note about personal freedoms, one wonders if Mr. Barr, who helped lead the effort to impeach President Clinton, would also be opposed to a camera monitoring when the White House had the red light turned on.)
A study conducted by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) found that each intersection fitted with camera enforcement saved approximately $38,000 annually in reduced right-angle crashes. This includes the deduction representing the cost of increased rear-end collisions at intersections with red light cameras.
It seems that a multi-prong strategy is the best solution to reducing crashes. A recent report by the Insurance Institute for by Highway Safety shows that Philadelphia had better results by extending the yellow phase (36% reduction in violations) before implementing cameras one year later (96% reduction). Additionally, intersection redesign could help to save lives and prevent injuries. Proposals include adding protected (left on arrow only) turn phases to signals, installing roundabouts, and prohibiting right turns on red.
The debate will likely rage on for years to come, but red light cameras reduce injury, death, and the costs associated with accidents at intersections. Drivers could make these cameras unnecessary by becoming more responsible motorists. After all, a crash occurs at a red light 23 times each hour on average in the United States.
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