New Research Shows Turning Off Red Light Cameras Costs Lives

in 2014, red-light-running crashes caused over 700 deaths and about 126,000 injuries

New Research Shows Turning Off Red Light Cameras Costs Lives
Image: Pixabay
August 2, 2016

Red light cameras can cause a lot of rage when consumers find an unexpected ticket in their mailbox, but their presence helps save lives.

According to research conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), red light camera programs in 79 large U.S. cities saved nearly 1,300 lives through 2014. Shutting down such programs costs lives, with the rate of fatal red-light-running crashes shooting up 30 percent in cities that have turned off cameras.

Red-light-running crashes caused 709 deaths in 2014 and an estimated 126,000 injuries. Red light runners account for a minority of the people killed in such crashes. Most of those killed are occupants of other vehicles, passengers in the red-light-running vehicles, pedestrians or bicyclists.

"We know we have a problem: people dying at signalized intersections because of people running red lights," IIHS President Adrian Lund said as he presented the new research at a red-light-camera forum hosted by the Institute. "We know red light cameras are part of the solution."

Cameras increase the odds that red-light violators will get caught, and well-publicized camera programs discourage would-be violators from taking those odds.

Many speakers at the IIHS forum emphasized the importance of organizing camera programs so that the public understands their value as a safety tool, not as a revenue generator. One way to do that is to keep camera revenues separate from the general fund and dedicate them to traffic safety.

A 2011 IIHS study found that in large cities with red light camera programs during 2004-08, there were substantial decreases in the per capita rates of both fatal red-light-running crashes and fatal crashes of all types at intersections with traffic signals.

The researchers looked at the 57 cities of 200,000 or more people that activated cameras between 1992 and 2014 and didn't shut them off. They compared the trends in annual per capita fatal crash rates in those cities with the trends in 33 cities that never had cameras. After accounting for the effects of population density and unemployment rates, the researchers found there were 21 percent fewer fatal red-light-running crashes per capita in cities with cameras than would have occurred without cameras and 14 percent fewer fatal crashes of all types at signalized intersections.

When applied to all 57 cities, as well as 22 cities that started and ended camera programs, the lower intersection crash rate translates into 1,296 lives saved during the years the cameras were operational.

The second part of the study looked at 14 cities that ended their camera programs between 2010 and 2014. The researchers compared trends in annual crash rates in those cities with trends in crash rates in 29 cities in the same regions that continued their camera programs. The fatal red-light-running crash rate was 30 percent higher in cities that turned off cameras than it would have been if the cameras remained on. The rate of fatal crashes at signalized intersections was 16 percent higher.

The 16 percent increase translates into an estimated 63 deaths that would have been prevented in the 14 cities if they had not turned off their cameras.