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Turning off red light cameras costs lives

Red light camera programs in 79 large U.S. cities saved nearly 1,300 lives through 2014, researchers from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety have found. Shutting down such programs costs lives, with the rate of fatal red-light-running crashes shooting up 30 percent in cities that have turned off cameras.

Red-light-running crashes caused 709 deaths in 2014 and an estimated 126,000 injuries. Red light runners account for a minority of the people killed in such crashes. Most of those killed are occupants of other vehicles, passengers in the red-light-running vehicles, pedestrians or bicyclists.

Automated enforcement deters red light running. While traditional police enforcement can help, there aren’t enough resources to station officers at every intersection. Cameras increase the odds that violators will get caught, and well-publicized camera programs discourage would-be violators from taking those odds.

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. While programs are still being launched in some places, the total number of communities with red light cameras fell to 467 in 2015 from a peak of 533 in 2012.

A 2011 IIHS study found that in large cities with red light camera programs during 2004-08, there were substantial decreases in the per capita rates of both fatal red-light-running crashes and fatal crashes of all types at intersections with traffic signals.

The new study updates that analysis, using a more rigorous design, a larger number of cities and a longer study period. It also looks at the effect of ending camera programs, something not previously studied.

In cities that turned on red light cameras

  • 21% fewer fatal red light running crashes per capita
  • 14% fewer fatal crashes of all types per capita at signalized intersections than would have occurred without cameras

In cities that turned off red light cameras

  • 30% more fatal red light running crashes per capita
  • 16% more fatal crashes of all types per capita at signalized intersections than would have occurred with cameras

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