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Study Says Red Light Cameras Cause Death, Mayhem, Acne

Okay, they didn't go that far. But in a study published this month in the Florida Public Health Review, University of South Florida researchers did find that red light cameras are little more than revenue generators, and actually make intersections less safe than doing nothing at all.

"The rigorous studies clearly show red-light cameras don’t work," said lead author Barbara Langland-Orban, professor and chair of health policy and management at the USF College of Public Health.

"Instead, they increase crashes and injuries as drivers attempt to abruptly stop at camera intersections. If used in Florida, cameras could potentially create even worse outcomes due to the state’s high percent of elderly who are more likely to be injured or killed when a crash occurs."

What else they found:

• The injury rate from red-light running crashes has dropped by a third in less than a decade, indicating red-light running crashes have been continually declining in Florida without the use of cameras.

• Comprehensive studies from North Carolina, Virginia, and Ontario have all reported cameras are significantly associated with increases in crashes, as well as crashes involving injuries. The study by the Virginia Transportation Research Council also found that cameras were linked to increased crash costs.

So what about those studies frequently trotted out by legislators eager to install intersection cameras?

Some studies that conclude cameras reduced crashes or injuries contained major “research design flaws,” such as incomplete data or inadequate analyses, and were conducted by researchers with links to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The IIHS, funded by automobile insurance companies, is the leading advocate for red-light cameras. Insurers can profit from red-light cameras, since their revenues will increase when higher premiums are charged due to the crash and citation increase, the researchers say.

One of those flawed studies credited red light cameras credit for downward trends in intersection injuries that began long before red light cameras were actually installed. Others lumped continuing decreases in injuries at intersections without red light cameras with actual increases in injuries at the considerably fewer intersections with cameras. They'd then come up with conclusions such as, "our intersections are safer since we installed red light cameras," taking care to use words like "since" intsead of "because."

One particularly perverse problem the study didn't address is the temptation among some city governments to actually shorten yellow lights at camera-monitored intersections to increase revenue, despite well-documented research showing that shortening yellows is pretty much guaranteed to cause more accidents.

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  • ||

    Red light cameras are one of the best arguments against the notion that federalism promotes liberty. The biggest violators are typically local governments, with states not far behind.

  • ||

    Legislation about banning additional red light cameras is making its way through the Georgia legislature as we speak.

    The simple solution: Mandate that ALL revenues generated by Red Light Camera tickets be turned over to the state, instead of being held locally, and the funds be earmarked for for drivers' education, or hospital emergency care. This would, of course, prevent revenue sharing with the camera makers, who would then have no incentive to market them to cities.

    CB

  • ||

    Red light cameras are one of the best arguments against the notion that federalism promotes liberty. The biggest violators are typically local governments, with states not far behind.

    You're right, Chris. We must put all stop lights under the control of Washington pronto.

  • ||

    The simple solution: Mandate that ALL revenues generated by Red Light Camera tickets be turned over to the state, instead of being held locally, and the funds be earmarked for for drivers' education, or hospital emergency care. This would, of course, prevent revenue sharing with the camera makers, who would then have no incentive to market them to cities.

    No, to the Social Security Trust fund, and eliminate borrowing from the fund, and do the same with any proceeds of ANY confiscated property.

    Dare to dream....

  • Episiarch||

    It's pretty amazing how depraved politicians and bureaucrats are. They have significant evidence that people are being hurt or killed in greater numbers because of these devices and many of them are fighting to get them installed or shortening yellow light times...

    ...in order to raise money, which they have staggering amounts of already.

    Very sick.

  • ||

    Awsome! First, a bunch of stories on the "red light" industry, now actual red lights!

    This new management is really turning this magazine around!

  • ||

    I don't see how insurers profit, at least in Virginia. I got caught by a red light camera in Virginia before they stopped doing it. The citation went something like this...Pay the measly $150 now and we won't tell your insurance company, or come to court and we'll throw the book at you for wasting our time if we prove it was you.

  • ||

    Unless, of course, they profit by red-light camera decreasing accidents. But obviously that isn't what they are implying.

  • highnumber||

    In North Carolina, there is legislation that mandates that, I think, 90% of the money collected from RLCs goes to local schools. Essentially this makes RLCs a losing proposition for the municipalities, since this does not usually leave them with enough money to pay the vendors who operate the camera systems. As I recall the story, the law was on the books but either was not being enforced or different towns dealt with it differently (paying 90% of their net perhaps), until a lawsuit against one of the towns was brought by the local schools looking for their share of the dough. Most of the towns that suspended their program pending the lawsuit chose not to reactivate their RLCs. If safety was really the issue, wouldn't it be worth a few bucks?

    (I know way too much about RLCs due to a contract research job I held recently.)

  • ||

    The insurance angle makes no sense, at least in California. Here, the vast majority of traffic citations end up in traffic "school", and the insurance companies never see a cent from them. And accidents, especially those involving injury or death, have got to be money losers for insurers, even with the increased premiums.

  • ||

    You're right, Chris. We must put all stop lights under the control of Washington pronto.

    I guess I should have made it clearer that I was playing devil's advocate. Federalism is still the better choice, but no one should pretend it's a panacea. Authoritarianism exists at all levels of government.

  • ||

    Hey, good for USF! Maybe that'll keep those damned cameras away from the Bay Area.

  • highnumber||

    ProGLib,
    A few months ago, the camera creep was just hitting Florida. Technically, they are illegal there (IIRC, police officer must witness a violation in person in order for a citation to be issued), but some towns were testing the waters anyway. The sales staff for the RLC vendors are pros and once they get their hooks into a region, look out.

  • ||

    So, what's the causal mechanism for red light cameras increasing accidents? I understand them being ineffective, but why counterproductive?

  • ||

    "Instead, they increase crashes and injuries as drivers attempt to abruptly stop at camera intersections. If used in Florida, cameras could potentially create even worse outcomes due to the state's high percent of elderly who are more likely to be injured or killed when a crash occurs."

    Elderly are probably also more likely to try at all costs to make sure that they don't go through a yellow light and maybe, just maybe get a ticket, thereby creating more rear-end collisions. Or at least, that's how my grandmother drives where there are RLCs.

  • ||

    highnumber-

    You're right about NC. I believe it is actually in the state constitution that most of a certain type of fines (which apparently the camera fines fall into) have to go to the state education fund. Wilmington had several of those cameras and was gleefully spending the cash. They lost the court case and ended up on the hook to pay a substantial amount of money to the state. Since that the camera have been disappearing, which proves that their only purpose is to generate revenue- nobody gives a shit about them now that they aren't making money.

  • ||

    Makes people worry about a camera, which doesn't care about context, rather than their own instincts for the correct way to handle the situation.

    Its like any other zero tolerance policy; ridiculous results abound.

  • Taktix®||

    If used in Florida, cameras could potentially create even worse outcomes due to the state's high percent of elderly who are more likely to be injured or killed when a crash occurs.

    If used in Miami-Fort Lauderdale, it will have zero effect, except perhaps a flashy light show for the minority of us who actually stop at red lights...

  • ||

    Why, WHY, do people assume that government has different incentives than every other organization? Just like Microsoft, the local church and The March of Dimes, government wants to grow, amass power and increase its own wealth. A few random people getting whacked at intersections is going to factor very little into the desirability equation.

    Don't believe me? Go to your state lottery site, then tell me they care more about "the people" than revenue. My prediction is that these revenue generators will increase, human costs be damned.

  • ||

    I think this is the applicable section of the NC constitution:

    http://statelibrary.dcr.state.nc.us/nc/stgovt/article_vii-xiv.HTM#IX

    ARTICLE IX

    EDUCATION

    Sec. 7. County school fund.

    All moneys, stocks, bonds, and other property belonging to a county school fund, and the clear proceeds of all penalties and forfeitures and of all fines collected in the several counties for any breach of the penal laws of the State, shall belong to and remain in the several counties, and shall be faithfully appropriated and used exclusively for maintaining free public schools.

  • ||

    Why, WHY, do people assume that government has different incentives than every other organization?

    But it does have different incentives! The government is there to serve teh public and the public interest! Good, noble, principled people represent "us" and "our" interests, and protect us from teh corporashuns!

  • highnumber||

    By the way, the greatest resource for news on RLCs is

    theNewspaper.com

    StopRedLightRunning.com is paid for by the RLC vendors.

  • highnumber||

    JLM,
    If you look it up, I think there is also a law in NC pertaining specifically to automated red light enforcement.

  • ||

    The City of Minneapolis brought in red-light camera's a few years ago. They were sued and a judge ruled they violated state law. Our legislature has shown no interest in changing that law. So the camera's sit there unused and not all that appealing to look at.

  • ||

    Study Says Red Light Cameras Cause Death, Mayhem, Acne

    If you really want them gone, you need to claim that they cause erectile dysfunction.

  • ||

    or just claim that getting rid of RCLs is 'for the children'.
    that seems to work.

  • ||

    If you really want them gone, you need to claim that they cause erectile dysfunction.

    Implying that they are harmful to womyn might be more effective.

  • Paul||

    University of South Florida researchers did find that red light cameras are little more than revenue generators



    I gotta get into this research gig. So much time and money discovering the obvious...

  • ||

    But it does have different incentives! The government is there to serve teh public and the public interest! Good, noble, principled people represent "us" and "our" interests, and protect us from teh corporashuns!

    Thanks Reinmoose! It's all so clear now. Didn't you used to teach Civics 101?

  • ||

    If you claim that they cause erectile disfunction, Pfizer will be lobbying the feds to make them mandatory everywhere.

  • some guy||

    they cause erectile dysfunction

    Please consult a physician if they stay red for longer than 4 hours.

  • Paul||

    Red light cameras are one of the best arguments against the notion that federalism promotes liberty. The biggest violators are typically local governments, with states not far behind.

    ChrisO, truer words never spoken.

  • ||

    Thanks Reinmoose! It's all so clear now. Didn't you used to teach Civics 101?

    I actually still teach civics 101 to impressionable teenagers everywhere. It is important to be involved in "your" government so that "your" opinions are heard in an open debate of ideas. Just like in my classroom!

    What's that J sub D? You don't think that government actually functions the way I'm teaching that it does? Well shut up and sit down or I'll have you thrown out of class! We accept all ideas here, and you're trying to limit the debate!

  • ||

    I don't understand how a machine can be an arbiter of law. Could they make tobacco smoke detectors that would issue citations? Or how about parking meters that photograph the plate and mail a ticket when time expires?

    It seems to me a very slippery slope.

  • ||

    Whose bright idea was it to let people drive several thousand pounds of metal down a road at 60mph anyway? Didn't they think of the children in those days?

  • ||

    The simple solution: Mandate that ALL revenues generated by Red Light Camera tickets be turned over to the state,...

    Funny you should mention that. Here in NM they have red light cameras in Albuquerque and recently, the state decided since they own the roads, they're taking the red-light-camera money. Well, the Mayor of Albuquerque (who was the one who championed the red light cameras in the first place) protested by not sending out any tickets for over a week (the red light cameras were left on and running, but no tickets were sent out). This was widely publicized and talked about a lot on local news, talk radio, newspapers, etc.

    According to the Mayor, over that time period, the number of red light violators doubled (no accident statistics were given), so he decided to reinstate the ticketing.

  • deron||

    This will be counter to the general trend here, but I don't care that they're revenue generators.

    To the extent that the two intersections in my town generates funds that don't come out of my pocket it doesn't hurt me a bit. I prefer keeping my property taxes and sales taxes down rather than give up these nice little toll gates. The fact that the municipality has a habit of finding other uses for the money, is something I feel is more worth complaint.

    What amazes me every time I'm waiting at these lights is the number of people who have not bothered to read the sign that warns them about the danger to their pocketbooks, and who go through when the light is clearly red.

    The big key to avoiding getting rear ended is driving in such a way as it is clear that you intend to stop when called to do so.

  • highnumber||

    Or how about parking meters that photograph the plate and mail a ticket when time expires?

    The only reason I can think of why we don't have those yet is that there isn't enough revenue in meter violations to justify the expense of a camera on each meter. Wait till the cost of the technology goes down some more. Municipal governments would love automated meter enforcement.

    Search for "automated parking meter enforcement" (without the quotes) and you'll see that patents have already been applied for.

  • ||

    There are law suits over these cams which were recently installed in Lafayette, La.

    They are suing over the fact that according to law a ticket is a minor citation and unless a cop issues it to you its not valid. Another suit claims the city council allowed the traffic dept to lessen the orange light signal times as well to catch more people. They even have unmanned vans on the side of the road giving out tickets. Someone put up a website where locals can go checkout the latest reports of where the vans are located. They even setup a cell msg system to update anyone interested as to the vans location, along with a map detailing all the red light cam locations.

    Pure and simple money grab is all this is and will ever be.

    They just started using the RLC here in Baton Rouge. One of the very first to be photographed running the red light was....................................................... wait for it........................................................ A COP!

    Sniping RLC's might be the next big thing in entertainment. They have so many cams in London being damaged they are installing cams to watch the cams. Make what you will of that. I personally salute each cam I come across with my middle finger.


    I have a feeling the cams will be coming down in Laf. soon or the politicians who allowed them will be gone, followed by the cameras.

  • ||

    >> University of South Florida researchers did
    >>find that red light cameras are little more
    >>than revenue generators

    >I gotta get into this research gig. So much time
    >and money discovering the obvious...

    People have remarkably different ideas about what is obvious. I think it's good that someone out there is doing the legwork.

  • e||

    What is the Libertarian Solution(tm) to intersections where pedestrians routinely are mowed down by drivers who ignore red lights?

    Seriously though, I feel that pedestrians shouldn't be walking outside in the first place. Streets are for driving cars, sidewalks are for parking cars, and if you walk around ignorantly outside, you're a Darwin Award candidate and you deserve whatever you get.

    Also, stories like this just propaganda invented by Big Camera.

    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/37704


    The number of injury collisions in San Francisco caused by red-light
    jumpers has dropped by more than half over the past decade since
    red-light cameras were introduced, a dramatic decrease that city
    officials attribute in part to the cameras.

  • ||

    The big key to avoiding getting rear ended is driving in such a way as it is clear that you intend to stop when called to do so.



    That's tough to do when you learn just before entering the intersection that the light you know took about x seconds to turn red suddenly only takes x-2 seconds so the city can make a few bucks.

  • highnumber||

    e,
    If you do a little research, you will find that there are lots of design factors that make certain intersections safer than others. It's not about a Libertarian Solution™. It's about whether municipalities' motives are safety or revenue.

  • some guy||

    What is the Libertarian Solution(tm) to intersections where pedestrians routinely are mowed down by drivers who ignore red lights?

    The anarchist wing of libertopia would take issue with your defining it as a problem.

  • ||

    Sniping RLC's might be the next big thing in entertainment. They have so many cams in London being damaged they are installing cams to watch the cams. Make what you will of that. I personally salute each cam I come across with my middle finger.


    Didn't they fine the hell out of some guy in Britain for doing just that?

  • Episiarch||

    Sniping is too dangerous. Just put on a mask, at night, and pop it with a 12-gauge loaded with buckshot. Make sure you park where it can't photograph your car (should some part of the camera survive with pictures).

  • e||

    e,
    If you do a little research, you will find that there are lots of design factors that make certain intersections safer than others. It's not about a Libertarian Solution™. It's about whether municipalities' motives are safety or revenue.


    highnumber, are you suggesting things like pedestrian bulbouts, higher speed limits, roundabouts, speed bumps, etc? Those all cost money. Would you, as a safe and law-abiding driver, bear the burden of higher taxes for those, or would you rather the cost be borne by lawbreaking drivers in the form of fines?

  • e||

    (sorry, meant LOWER speed limits)

  • e||

    The anarchist wing of libertopia would take issue with your defining it as a problem.

    Well, sure. You don't see people in Mad Max movies complaining about pedestrian deaths. It's all part of the fun.

  • deron||

    That's tough to do when you learn just before entering the intersection that the light you know took about x seconds to turn red suddenly only takes x-2 seconds so the city can make a few bucks.

    That is true, but in the two intersection I regularly encounter it isn't an issue. Maybe my city council hasn't learned about Lubbock's strategy, or maybe they chose not to use it. I suppose they haven't heard of it.

    The anarchist wing of libertopia would take issue with your defining it as a problem.

    What that wing fails to understand is that it's not the lights that cause the accidents. That's a misapplication of blame. Lights don't kill people; people kill people.

  • ||

    Reinmoose, now I know why I got a D+.

  • ||

    I think one of the earlier commenters had it right: the problem with the red light cameras is that they are a "zero-tolerance" implementation. This far exactly none of those programs have been beneficial that I am aware of and most are highly counterproductive.

    Alternately, the "Shared Spaces" concept is probably worth a hard look. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=18217318

  • e||

    Jonathan, I agree, it is worth looking at; although it depends on drivers' willingness to SLOW DOWN - something that will doubtless rub some "give me convenience or give me death" libertarian types the wrong way.

  • highnumber||

    e,
    I'm not a traffic engineer, so don't get the idea that I really know what I'm talking about, but roundabouts, yes, from what I understand increase safety. Speed bumps, as I understand it, do no good, since drivers tend to speed up between them. I'm not really sure about the others, and I recall reading that measures to improve drivers' ability to see the intersection help the most.

    As to whether I am in favor of increasing fees to implement effective safety measures versus municipal gov'ts implementing effective revenue raising methods under the guise of safety programs, I prefer the more honest of the two choices.

  • Paul||

    What is the Libertarian Solution(tm) to intersections where pedestrians routinely are mowed down by drivers who ignore red lights?

    I'm not sure how many red light cameras were or are installed to stop this from happening. Mainly, I'm not sure if a lot of pedestrians are mowed down by people lagging the yellow by 3 seconds.

    I have no data, but most of the pedestrians that I read about getting mowed down are dashing across a busy four lane road where no light or crosswalk exists, or are mowed down by aggressive or drunk drivers (the story almost always mentions "a loud exhaust") simply driving down the street. Another big cause of pedestrians getting hit (that I've observed) is the blind turns that most people make.

  • Paul||

    he problem with the red light cameras is that they are a "zero-tolerance" implementation.

    This libertarian disagrees. The problem with red light cameras is that once we become used to them, we have cameras on the street watching pedestrians. And then, we've got street cameras which can be positioned by the government operator which can peer inside apartment windows without a warrant. I don't really have that much of a problem with red light cameras per se. I just never believed they actually worked, always figured they were more about revenue generation, and given the mounting evidence, now believe they may cause more dangerous conditions than they purport to relieve.

  • ||

    A whole bunch of people who were in a funeral procession got busted by several RLC's on the way to the grave site. I guess they should have stopped.

  • ||

    I have a solution.

  • ||

    More accidents due to short yellow light times means more revenue for the state, in two ways:

    1) If a ticket is written, direct revenue to the state for the fine
    2) Tickets mean points on a driver's record, which means higher premiums. Insurance companies in most states are subject to an excise tax on premiums (in lieu of the corporate income tax in some cases, such as Florida), so higher premiums equals more tax.

    In addition, various state employee unions will clamor for additional headcount on the basis of the increased accident rate, further bloating state governments.

  • ||

    Interesting discussion. I don't live in a place where there are even very many lights, much less cameras, so I have no experience with them. On the surface, they seem like a great idea to me based upon what I saw living in Houston more than two decades ago, where at any given intersection you had to wait for at least 30 seconds after the light turned green to let all of the cars go through. But it sounds like there are real safety concerns with the cameras. I guess they could synch the lights so they don't turn green for 30 seconds after the light the other direction turns red, but that would slow things down a lot.

  • ||

    A couple of years ago, I got a ticket for running a red light in Edmond, OK. I got into the intersection when the light was green, and it went to yellow then red while I was waiting for traffic to go by so that I could turn left. Edmond has a city ordinance stating that if you are in the intersection when the light turns red, you ran the light.

    Doing a survey of the intersection, I discovered that it was possible for someone driving through the intersection at the speed limit to enter on a green then see it turn red before getting all the way across 6 traffic lanes and a wide grass median.

    It is now my policy, when in Edmond, to try to be in front of cop cars when I come up to intersections, in hope that the light will go yellow and I can slam on my brakes and get rear-ended. It would be nothing short of poetic if the cop is the same one who gave me the ticket!

  • ||

    Ron | March 14, 2008, 12:09pm | #

    I'm curious, why do motorists in Houston have to wait for at least 30 seconds after the light turns green to let all of the cars go through an intersection?

    Do you mean that the timing is so off that cars moving at normal speed can't clear the intersection or is it because drivers enter the intersection when it is so congested that they will be sitting there stopped when the light changes.

    If it's the former then the complaint is with the traffic engineers who set the timing. If the latter then the complaint is against the asshole who can't see that the intersection is clogged and the need to stop behind the stop bar until the intersection clears. Yes, that's what you need to do when you're in heavy congestion.

    And yes, traffic light timing should be determined and set by traffic engineers and not by a bunch of politicians trying to maximize revenue. Issues of safety at intersections are already bad enough without idiots who don't know what they're doing interfering.

    Yep, I just said this is something you need to leave to the experts.

  • ||

    Isaac,

    The 30-second wait on green here in Houston is an exaggeration, but not by much. The reason for the delay is that you will often see 4 or 5 drivers in a row gun-it and run-it when their light goes yellow. By the time the last vehicle in the train goes through, the light has been red for a few seconds. These jerks essentially dare you to pull out and hit them.

    As bad as the red light running problem is around here, I'm not convinced that the cameras are a good solution, particularly when the companies that install them get a percentage of the fines - that sort of arrangement should be outlawed by the state legislature, as it creates a blatant conflict of interest.

  • Brian Ceccarelli||

    Actually, in North Carolina, the red light cameras point to a unlikely suspect. The Department of Transportation. The equation they use to set the yellow light intervals has an algebra mistake. The mistake shortens the interval by 40%.

  • sathi2000||

    such as incomplete data or inadequate analyses, and were conducted by researchers with links to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The IIHS, funded by automobile insurance companies, is the leading advocate for red-light cameras.
    http://www.mirei.com

  • ||

    many people have diets of Rx pills and non-nutritional fast food (provided to you by the very same corporations that are in bed with the Fed) - we live in a fascist country dominated by mass consumerism - and we keep everyone in power by going along
    Austin Roofing Companies

  • ||

    I understand libertarian opposition to any type of government-sanctioned marriage, but his opposition is selective, targeting only gays and thus exalting heterosexuals with a special government-determined status. The only thing worse than government-sanctioned marriage for all is government-sanctioned marriage for someone, which compounds the inappropriate role of government in regulating personal relationships and contracts.
    Mother's Day Flowers

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