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Red Light Cameras – good, bad or indifferent?

John Day

John Day

Posted Jan 31, 2013

Are red light cameras a positive step toward reducing traffic accidents or are they a threat to personal liberty and simply a moneymaker for the communities that install them?

Researchers at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) found that red light running rates declined at Arlington, Virginia intersections equipped with cameras. The decreases were particularly large for the most dangerous violations, those happening 1-1/2 seconds or longer after the light turned red.

Cameras were installed at four heavily traveled intersections in June 2010. Following a 30-day warning period, the county began issuing citations carrying $50 fines for violations caught on camera. Researchers at the Institute, which is located in Arlington, videotaped traffic during the warning period, a month after ticketing began and again after a year. Videotaping was also done at four other intersections in Arlington — two on the same corridors where cameras were located and two elsewhere — to see if there was any spillover effect from the cameras. Four control intersections in neighboring Fairfax County, which does not have a camera program, were also observed.

One year after the start of ticketing, the odds of a red light running violation at the camera locations went down. Violations occurring at least 0.5 seconds after the light turned red were 39 percent less likely than would have been expected without cameras. Violations occurring at least 1 second after were 48 percent less likely, and the odds of a violation occurring at least 1.5 seconds into the red phase fell 86 percent.

“This study provides fresh evidence that automated enforcement can get drivers to modify their behavior,” says Anne McCartt, senior vice president for research at IIHS and the study’s lead author.

Study after study shows that the devices improve safety, according to the IIHS. An 2011 IIHS study of large cities with longstanding red light cameras found that cameras reduced the fatal red light running crash rate by 24 percent and the rate of all types of fatal crashes at signalized intersections by 17 percent.

“What these numbers show is that those violations most likely to lead to a crash are reduced the most,” McCartt says. “The longer the light has been red when a violator enters an intersection, the more likely the driver is to encounter a vehicle traveling in another direction or a pedestrian.”

The National Motorists Association ( believes that with properly posted speed limits and properly installed traffic-control devices, there is no need for ticket cameras. In fact, according to the association’s Red Light Camera Fact Sheet (, the devices can actually make roads less safe.

Among other objections cited in the fact sheet, “…there is no ‘accuser’ for motorists to confront, which is a constitutional right. There is no one that can personally testify to the circumstances of the alleged violation, and just because a camera unit was operating properly when it was set up does not mean it was operating properly when the picture was taken of any given vehicle.”

Your thoughts?

red light cameras, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)

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John DayJohn Day recently launched John Day’s Automotive Electronics News ( to provide news and feature coverage of the automotive electronics industry. Earlier he wrote for Auto Electronics magazine, Auto E-lectronics, EE Times, and other business and engineering publications. Visit John Day

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