The Car and Truck Fleet and Leasing Management Magazine

Red-Light Cameras Help Prevent Fatal Crashes

July 29, 2016

Photo courtesy of IIHS.
Photo courtesy of IIHS.

Red-light camera programs continue to generate public controversy, but a new study from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety concludes that such programs in 79 large U.S. cities saved nearly 1,300 lives through 2014.

IIHS researchers contend that eliminating red-light camera programs costs lives, with the rate of fatal red-light-running crashes rising 30% in cities that have scrapped the programs.

Red-light-running crashes resulted in 709 deaths in 2014 and an estimated 126,000 injuries, according to IIHS. Drivers who ran a red light represent a minority of the people who died in these crashes. Most of those killed were occupants of other vehicles, passengers in vehicles running red lights, pedestrians, or bicyclists.

“Red light cameras are valuable enforcement tools that prevent many dangerous intersection crashes,” said IIHS President Adrian Lund. “This study confirms that cameras reduce fatal crashes and for the first time quantifies the effect that ending these programs has on safety.”

IIHS researchers looked at the 57 cities of 200,000 or more people that activated cameras between 1992 and 2014 and didn’t shut them off. They compared the trends in annual per-capita fatal crash rates in those cities with the trends in 33 cities that never had cameras.

After accounting for the effects of population density and unemployment rates, the researchers found there were 21% fewer fatal red-light-running crashes per capita in cities with cameras than would have occurred without cameras and 14% fewer fatal crashes of all types at signalized intersections.

As expected, IIHS noted, the cameras have their biggest effect on red-light-running crashes. However, the analysis shows they reduce other types of fatal intersection crashes as well. Drivers may be more cautious in general when they know there are cameras capturing images of their driving. In addition, red-light-running fatalities may be undercounted.

When applied to all 57 cities, as well as 22 cities that started and ended camera programs, the lower intersection crash rate translates into 1,296 lives saved during the years the cameras were operational, according to the study.

The second part of the study focused on 14 cities that terminated their camera programs between 2010 and 2014. The researchers compared trends in annual crash rates in those cities with trends in crash rates in 29 cities in the same regions that continued their camera programs. The fatal red-light-running crash rate was 30% higher in cities that turned off cameras than it would have been if the cameras remained on. The rate of fatal crashes at signalized intersections was 16% higher, the study found.

The 16% increase translates into an estimated 63 deaths that would have been prevented in the 14 cities if they had not turned off their cameras, IIHS said.

“Debates over automated enforcement often center on the hassle of getting a ticket and paying a fine,” Lund said. “It's important to remember that there are hundreds of people walking around who wouldn’t be here if not for red light cameras. Sadly, there are 63 families who are missing a loved one because these life-saving programs were canceled.”

Nonetheless, a level of public distrust of red-light camera programs persists, with some critics arguing that their primary purpose is to raise city revenue. A scandal in Chicago has helped fuel such skepticism.

To download the full IIHS study, click here.

To view a list of state laws regarding red-light cameras, click here.

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  1. 1. JB [ August 01, 2016 @ 10:22AM ]

    Left out of your story is fact that yellow light timing was shortened to create revenue, along with citing people for turning right on red without posting any stopping requirements. Neither was it reported how much rear end collisions increased due to panic stops induced by the shorten stopping interval!

  2. 2. Michael Galorath [ August 02, 2016 @ 10:44AM ]

    JB great point besides i'd like to add. At least in The not so great and broken state of Illinois. When the state approved red light systems. At the same time the state changed the way and how intersection accidents were reported. They eliminated and added so many different categories. Now the actual numbers are so skewed. The state can't give anyone a straight answer. The local news paper did an article with the hope the see how the red light system has either help or hurt the safety of the people of Illinois. The only conclusive item that came out of the report was the company who installed them was giving kick backs to city politicians. The cites were wreaking in tons of cash for items listed in JB's story. It would be great but the only entities who could shed any light on this story is the insurance companies. Since the Insurance companies are paying out cash for the increase in these type of accidents they my not say anything?

  3. 3. Stan [ August 05, 2016 @ 08:42AM ]

    The latest Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) report appears to use the same statistical trickery as earlier pro-camera reports the organization has issued.  For instance:

    1.Their researchers award safety credit to red-light cameras based on the halo or spillover effect.  Essentially if a city has red-light cameras at some intersections, IIHS credits the cameras for favorable safety numbers at all intersections throughout the city, cameras or no cameras.  Car and Driver’sPatrick Bedard aptly commented about this tactic in 2002 (that’s how long IIHS has been using it in their reports):  “Spillover effect is IIHS’s trick for giving the cameras credit for reducing fatalities even where they aren’t. It assumes that red-light cameras at a few intersections will cause drivers to stop promptly all over town, or all over the county, or maybe all over the state, so improvements outside the cameras’ ZIP Codes are credited to them nonetheless. As statistical acrobatics go, this one is breathtaking.”

    2.IIHS is reporting “fatal crashes at signalized intersections.”  That number usually quite small within any given city.  The difference between a couple of accidents in year one and a couple more in year two can make a statistical anomaly look like a 50 to 100 percent increase.

    3.IIHS doesn’t release their data. The information that forms the basis of these types of reports can’t be peer reviewed let alone replicated.  Therefore the IIHS report is not a scientific study.

    The IIHS press release for this report states, “Although surveys have found strong support for red light cameras in communities that have them, opposition from a vocal minority has led some jurisdictions to shut off their cameras.” Contrast that with the facts.  Since 1991, 38 communities throughout the United States have put their red-light and/or speed cameras on the public ballot for an up-or-down vote.  Thirty-four of them – 90 percent – voted to shut down the camera programs, in many instances by overwhelming majorities.  The term “vocal minority” used by the IIHS displays a pro-camera bias to their thinking.

    The IIHS is a non-profit organization funded by auto insurers.  Since the IIHS first-and-foremost represents the interests of the 80 insurance companies from which it receives its funding, it has been suggested that a primary motivation is to influence public opinion and legislation aimed at making insurance companies more profitable.


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