Red light cameras saved 159 lives in 2004-08 in 14 of the biggest US cities, a new analysis by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety shows. Had cameras been operating during that period in all large cities, a total of 815 deaths would have been prevented.
“The cities that have the courage to use red light cameras despite the political backlash are saving lives,” says Institute president Adrian Lund. The researchers found that in the 14 cities that had cameras during 2004-08, the combined per capita rate of fatal red light running crashes fell 35 percent, compared with 1992-96. The rate also fell in the 48 cities without camera programs in either period, but only by 14 percent.
The rate of all fatal crashes at intersections with signals — not just red light running crashes — fell 14 percent in the camera cities and crept up 2 percent in the noncamera cities. In the camera cities, there were 17 percent fewer fatal crashes per capita at intersections with signals in 2004-08 than would have been expected. That translates into 159 people who are alive because of the automated enforcement programs.
This result shows that red light cameras reduce not only fatal red light running crashes, but other types of fatal intersection crashes as well. One possible reason for this is that red light running fatalities are undercounted due to a lack of witnesses to explain what happened in a crash. Drivers also may be more cautious in general when they know there are cameras around.
Based on these calculations, if red light cameras had been in place for all 5 years in all 99 US cities with populations over 200,000, a total of 815 deaths could have been avoided.
“Somehow, the people who get tickets because they have broken the law have been cast as the victims,” Lund says. “We rarely hear about the real victims — the people who are killed or injured by these lawbreakers.” Red light running killed 676 people and injured an estimated 113,000 in 2009. Nearly two-thirds of the deaths were people other than the red light running drivers — occupants of other vehicles, passengers in the red light runners’ vehicles, bicyclists, or pedestrians.
Previous research has established that red light cameras deter would-be violators and reduce crashes at intersections with signals. Institute studies of camera programs have found that red light violations fell at intersections where cameras were installed and that this effect also spilled over to intersections without cameras. An Institute study in Oxnard, Calif., found that injury crashes at intersections with traffic signals fell 29 percent citywide after automated enforcement began.
The new study adds to this by showing that cameras reduce not only violations and crashes throughout entire communities but deaths, too.