Fatal crashes spike after red light cameras are removed

By Chris McCahill

Red light cameras save lives despite frequent controversy about the way programs are administered. Fourteen cities turned off their red light cameras from 2010 to 2014, resulting in a 30 percent increase in fatal crashes due to red light violations and a 16 percent increase in all types of fatal intersection crashes. That’s according to a new study from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

The authors of that study compared the 14 cities that deactivated their cameras to 29 similar cities that kept them running, controlling for citywide crash rates, population density, and unemployment. They also compared 57 cities that activated their cameras between 1992 and 2014 to 33 cities without programs. The cameras reduced fatal crashes from red light violations by 21 percent, and all fatal intersection crashes by 14 percent.

In 2014, red light violations caused 709 deaths—most of which were vehicle passengers, cyclists, and pedestrians—and 126,000 injuries according to IIHS. Yet use of red light camera programs has decreased since 2012.

Despite general support for these programs, critics often see them only as revenue generators. Proponents suggest that dedicating revenues to traffic safety improvements, keeping the programs transparent, and committing to public outreach are important to ensuring their success.

Chris McCahill is a Senior Associate at SSTI.