You may hate them, and, yes, they are all over the commute into town along 6th Avenue. But red light cameras are helping drivers remember that red means stop and are saving lives, according to a new study out Tuesday 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.
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. The institute estimates 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.
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. Researchers have known for some time that the cameras reduce crashes, but there are now enough cities with cameras to study whether they affect fatal crashes, Lund said. Red light cameras can be a cheaper and safer alternative to officers enforcing red light running, he added.
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.
Red light cameras are the leading edge of automated law enforcement technologies but raise some concerns about safeguarding checks and balances, said a spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union. AAA supports red light cameras in most but not all cases when used for sound reasons.