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Stop! Report reveals red-light cameras are actually a good thing

An American study into red-light cameras reveals they saved nearly 1,300 lives in 2014 and that removing them increases fatal crashes by 30 per cent.

Love or hate red lights and the cameras designed to catch naughty motorists who avoid stopping, it seems they can have a very positive effect on road safety, according to a new report by a road safety organisation.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) looked at 57 cities in the US with populations of more than 200,000 inhabitants that activated cameras between 1992 and 2014 and have kept them running. It then compared the data with 33 cities that have never had the cameras.

Taking into account population density and unemployment rates, the research showed there were 21 per cent few fatal instances of red-light-running crashes per capita than in cities without cameras and 14 per cent fewer fatal crashes of all types at intersections (junctions) with signals.

It said the presence of red-light cameras made drivers more cautious and less likely to ignore a red signal (especially in conjunction with well-publicised camera programs), which translated into 1,296 lives saved across all 57 cities ─ a figure it admits ‘may be undercounted’.

To make the data more valuable, the second part of the study investigated 14 cities that stopped their red-light camera programs between 2010 and 2014, comparing annual crash rates in those cities with the 29 cities in the same regions that kept using them.

The fatal red-light-running crash rate was found to be 30 per cent higher in cities where the program was ditched than if the cameras had remained on and that the rate of fatal crashes at signalised intersections was 16 per cent higher.

In other words, having the cameras appears to make roads safer overall and removing them significantly increases the number of crashes and fatalities.

Melissa Wandall, president for the National Coalition for Safer Roads, questioned why the US government would consider ditching the safety measure. “How can you turn away from something that’s saving lives?” she asked during a recent forum on the report at the IIHS Vehicle Research Centre.

Wandall is said to have become a red-light-camera advocate after her husband was killed by a driver who ignored a red signal, two weeks before the birth of her first child.

“My goal has always been to drive down heartache,” Wandall added. “It’s real every day that I watch my daughter grow. Even 12 years later, I know what she’s missing.”

The report noted there were 467 red-light community camera programs in 2015 ─ a significant drop on the 533 programs in 2012. In the US, there were 709 deaths and an estimated 126,000 injuries as a result of red-light-running in 2014.

On the touchy subject of the US government using them as a revenue generator, speakers at the same forum suggested keeping revenues made from red-light cameras separate from the general fund and to use the money solely for improving traffic safety. Also suggested was keeping data collection consistent and ensuring transparency.

“Debates over automated enforcement often centre on the hassle of getting a ticket and paying a fine,” IIHS president Adrian Lund said. “It’s important to remember that there are hundreds of people walking around who wouldn’t be here if not for red-light cameras.”

Traffic light cameras are used in the UK. A sensor turns on a camera when a red signal is showing and if a car passes through, a photograph of the offending vehicle is taken and a fine can be issued.

Some of these red-light cameras have reportedly been turned into speed cameras so are able to generate a speeding fine, too, giving those with an even bigger disregard for motoring laws a sizable financial bill and points on their driving licence.

It should be common sense, but a red light is a red light and you should probably stop ─ even if it is 4am and no one else is around. Is it really worth the risk?

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