Study: Red Light Cameras Cut Rates of Fatal Crashes

Cites 159 lives from 2004 through 2008 in 14 of the biggest U.S. cities.
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Red light cameras saved 159 lives from 2004 through 2008 in 14 of the biggest U.S. cities, says a report by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), an independent nonprofit dedicated to reducing deaths, injuries and property damage from auto crashes.

The report—Effects of Red Light Camera Enforcement on Fatal Crashes in Large U.S. Cities—says had cameras been operating during that period in all large cities, a total of 815 deaths would have been prevented. “The cities that have the courage to use red light cameras despite the political backlash are saving lives,” says Adrian Lund, the IIHS’ president.

Researchers scrutinized 99 U.S. cities with populations over 200,000, and compared those cities with red light camera programs to those without. Because the researchers wanted to determine if the rates of fatal crashes changed after the introduction of cameras, the periods 2004 through 2008 was compared to the period 1992 through 1996. Cities that had cameras during 1992 through 1996 were excluded from the analysis, as were cities that had cameras for only part of the later study period, the report says.

The researchers found that in the 14 cities that had cameras during 2004 through 2008, the combined per capita rate of fatal red light running crashes fell 35 percent, compared with 1992 through 1996. The rate also fell in the 48 cities without camera programs in either period, but only by 14 percent, says.

Based on that comparison, the researchers concluded that the rate of fatal red light running crashes in cities with cameras during 2004 through 2008 was 24 percent lower than it would have been without cameras. That adds up to 74 fewer fatal red light running crashes, or, given the average number of fatalities per red light running crash, approximately 83 lives saved, the report says.

The actual benefit is even bigger, the report says. The rate of all fatal crashes at intersections with signals—not just red light running crashes—fell 14 percent in the camera cities and crept up 2 percent in the non-camera cities. In the camera cities, there were 17 percent fewer fatal crashes per capita at intersections with signals during 2004 through 2008 than would have been expected. That translates into 159 people who are alive because of the automated enforcement programs, the report says.

That results indicate that red light cameras reduce not only fatal red light running crashes, but other types of fatal intersection crashes as well, the report says. The reasons for that included that red light running fatalities are undercounted due to a lack of witnesses to explain what happened in a crash, and that drivers might be more cautious in general when they know there are cameras around.

Based on those calculations, the IIHS says if red light cameras had been in place for the five years of the study in all 99 U.S. cities with populations over 200,000, a total of 815 deaths could have been avoided.