Red light cameras save lives. Turning them off puts lives at risk.

By Michel Brenneis

More than half of the fatalities caused by red light runners are pedestrians, cyclists, other motorists, or passengers. Red light running resulted in 811 fatal crashes in 2016, an increase of 17 percent from 2012 when there were 719 fatal crashes, reports the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

A study by IIHS researchers shows that red light camera programs are an effective deterrent to red light running. This prompted the development of a checklist designed to help communities successfully implement.

The IIHS study found that implementing red light cameras lowers the rate of fatal crashes at intersections that are remotely enforced, but the rate increases if they are turned off. Rates of fatal red light running crashes were 21 percent lower in cities with cameras than the expected non-camera rate. In cities that turned their cameras off the rate rose 30 percent above the rate expected had the cameras remained on. The study controlled for changes to unemployment rates in order to eliminate the effects of diminished driving resulting from the 2008 recession.

Additionally, the effects of red light camera programs can be seen in reductions of all fatal crashes within the studied cities. Rates of fatal crashes were 14 percent lower in cities with cameras than the expected non-camera rate; but when turned off, they were 16 percent higher than the expected rate had the cameras remained on.

The checklist, released by IIHS, AAA, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, and the National Safety Council, details steps that municipalities can take to ensure the success of red light camera programs, assuming that they are legal. The programs are expressly legal in 21 states, but illegal in 10. The detailed list includes recommendations for planning installations, implementing the programs, directing any revenue, and engaging the public. The checklist advises that intersections should be made as safe as possible prior to implementation, that law enforcement procedures be established in advance, and that operations and evaluation methodology be in place. The IIHS emphasizes the need to make the public aware that red light cameras are used to improve safety rather than as a source of revenue for the state or municipality.

Michael Brenneis is an Associate Researcher at SSTI.