Red Light Camera Study Involving Baltimore Released

Tuesday, February 01, 2011 – Steve Fermier, Scott Wykoff and Associated Press
A new red light camera study has been released by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

The study concludes that the cameras have reduced the rate of fatal crashes by 24 percent in 14 large cities that introduced red light cameras between 1996 and 2004.

The institute claims that the reduction translates into 159 lives saved over five years in those cities. If all large cities had cameras, a total of 815 lives could have been saved, according to the study.

Baltimore saw a 14-percent drop in fatal red light crashes, but a 50-percent increase in fatal crashes at intersections with signals.

“Red light cameras are working,” said institute President Adrian Lund. “There are hundreds of people who are alive because some communities had the courage to use this method of enforcement.”

In cities with the cameras, the study also noted drops in all fatal crashes at intersections with traffic signals, not just those caused by running red lights.

“We think that they are just paying more attention to intersections as they come up on them because they are more certain that if they violate the red light that they will get a ticket,” Lund said.

In 2009, 676 people were killed and an estimated 113,000 injured in red light crashes, according the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System.

Gary Biller, executive director of the National Motorists Association, a Wisconsin-based drivers’ rights organization, disputed the institute’s finding that the cameras have reduced deaths. He cited previous studies – questioned by the institute – that found that the cameras increase crashes, including rear-end collisions.

As for calling the cameras a low-cost solution, Biller added: “They’re not low cost to the motorist.”

Biller says less costly and more effective options include improving sight lines at intersections, lengthening yellow lights or using all-red delays in which all lights at an intersection simultaneously go red for a time.

The study looked at 99 cities with populations over 200,000. It compared two periods, 2004-2008, when the most recent fatal crash data were available, and 1992-1996, a period when the 14 cities had not begun red light camera programs.

Fatal red light crashes fell in most cities, but the rate fell 14 percent in the 48 cities without cameras and 35 percent in the 14 cities with cameras in the second period. The biggest drop in the rate of fatal crashes involving red light running was seen in Chandler, Ariz., where deaths dropped 79 percent.

Two cities, Raleigh, N.C., and Bakersfield, Calif., saw increases. That may be due to strong growth in those communities over two decades, Lund said.

The study provides strong evidence that the cameras can save lives when used appropriately with the goal of making roads safer, said AAA Mid-Atlantic spokeswoman Ragina Averella. “However, without proper … oversight these automated enforcement measures can sometimes be abused and become revenue generators instead of lifesavers at the expense of motorists,” she said.

AAA supports red light cameras in most but not all cases when used for sound reasons.

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