SPEED and RED LIGHT Cameras Make the Roads More Dangerous

In almost every jurisdiction, the impetus and decision to install photo enforcement comes from politicians and law enforcement, and not from traffic safety engineers or as a result of traffic engineering studies. How can you fix sub-optimal light timing or speed limits that are set too high or low with a camera? This aversion to a fact & data scientific approach reveals the true motive (profit) behind the use of photo enforcement.

One of the biggest arguments for speed cameras is some kind of urgent, pressing need to make our roads safer and reduce accidents. The problem is, this danger is never expressed in terms of reliable statistics that show that accident rates are "too high." The fact is, accident rates have been dropping nationwide for decades. Certainly, it would be fabulous if we could have accident-free roads. The reality is that without banning cars altogether, this Utopian scenario is not obtainable and never will be. As a society, we have to decide what an acceptable accident rate is and decide to strive for that standard. Otherwise, if we decide that no one should ever die in an auto accident, then motorized transportation should be banned and we can all just go back to horses and buggies. The vague goal of "safer roads" is just as unacceptable as a publicly-traded company declaring their goal to be to vaguely "make more money." If there is a safety crisis, our officials need to declare specifically what it is and what their goals are so that we can know if they are successful. Without such stated goals, we can only assume this whole thing is a ruse and a scheme to generate revenue.

So if the first argument is that our roads are not dangerous enough to warrant these Draconian measures, the second argument is that these cameras are ineffective and either do NOT reduce accidents or actually INCREASE the number of accidents. We've assembled a list of reports, data, and information below to show this.

A third argument about this alleged safety crisis is the concept that trying to change the behavior of drivers (which assumes that cameras are effective in doing this) is somehow going to be more effective/successful than re-engineering the roads and intersections that are alleged to be dangerous and achieving sustained compliance naturally. Workplace safety philosophy dictates that you employ mechanical safe guards and process safety improvement wherever possible so you don't have to rely on changing worker behaviors and training. On the roadways, this would include adjusting speed limits, adjusting yellow light timing, lane markings and designations, and other rules. For example, it is well-established that intersection accident rates are greatly affected by yellow light times. Why not simply adjust the timing? This solution is very low cost and proven to be extremely effective. Camera operators would like you to believe that red-light accidents are caused by people intentionally running the light, because of course, only intentional behavior can be affected by enforcement. The reality is that most red-light crashes are caused by people unintentionally running red lights. If they don't intend to run a red light but do anyway, there is little chance that a camera will change that. A camera serves only to document such events and generate money.

If this list isn't good enough, check out the list at the NMA's website.

Reports showing speed cameras do not improve accident rates or that speed is not major cause of accidents

Reports showing red light cameras have little effect or increase accident rates

With all of this information available, one has to wonder why our officials have chosen to ignore it. The obvious answer is the revenue. I believe that the real problem is the process. Districts have equipment vendors come in to meetings and give slick presentations promising safety and revenue which sounds "win-win" and "can't lose." The real problem is that the officials never or rarely seek out any information as to why they shouldn't install the equipment in order to counter the slick presentation. The key is public awareness, which is why we are here.

Other Reports

Effectiveness of Red Light Cameras in Chicago: An Exploratory Analysis (June 2010)

More Evidence

If traffic cameras increase safety, where's the proof?

Feb. 29, 2012 Washington Examiner - Article


Although regional officials claim that speed/red light cameras increase traffic safety, they are strangely unwilling to provide the raw data to document the effectiveness of the equipment on which they are spending millions of tax dollars.

In January, for example, The Washington Examiner asked officials in D.C. and Montgomery County how they determined whether speed/red light cameras resulted in fewer accidents, injuries or deaths at each specific location where they were deployed. If the cameras really do increase traffic safety, as officials insist, the before/after data should confirm it with concrete numbers.

A month and a half later, we're still waiting.

Los Angeles Red Light Camera Program a Failure

Jan. 31, 2011

'Dangerous' speed camera rakes in $500,000 a year

Nov. 14, 2009 Telegraph - Article


Crashes have risen by almost a quarter and casualties have almost doubled since the camera was installed on a busy stretch of the M11 in Essex, in 2000.

Now, details revealed under Freedom of Information legislation, show that the device results in up to 9,000 speeding tickets a year, enough to raise around 500,000 [pounds].

Florida: Early Data Suggest City Traffic Cameras Ineffective

Nov. 7, 2009 The Newspaper - Article


An early look at the performance of the red light cameras in Temple Terrace, Florida shows that they have done nothing to improve safety. Instead of merely repeating city claims on the topic, investigative reporters for the Tampa station WFTS ordered accident reports and checked the data for themselves. Although the program has been operational for a year, police only released enough data to produce a limited snapshot of the effect on accidents.

Over the first five months of the program, accidents decreased citywide by 13 percent compared to the same period a year earlier without cameras. At intersections with cameras, however, the number of accidents more than doubled from six to fourteen. Contrary to claims that red light cameras decrease accident severity, the average police estimate of damage costs for each accident increased by twenty percent after cameras were installed.

Arizona: Witnesses Blame Accident on Speed Camera

Oct. 9, 2009 The Newspaper - Article


The panicked reaction that some drivers have to the sight of a speed camera may in fact be a significant cause of accidents. The group CameraFraud.com yesterday released an Arizona Department of Public Safety (DPS) accident report that describes a July 25 incident in which a gray Chevy Camaro collided with a red 1994 Toyota 4Runner SUV on Interstate 17 in Yavapai County, sending two people to the hospital. Although DPS maintains that it hired an A ustralian company, Redflex Traffic Systems, to operate speed cameras to improve safety, the department's own report tells a far different story.

Texas: Study Finds Slim Justification for Camera Installation

May. 12, 2009 TheNewspaper.com - Article


An independent engineering survey found red light cameras would be inappropriate at all but two intersection approaches in Abilene, Texas, results which disappointed city leaders. Last Wednesday, Lee Engineering presented a detailed report to the Red Light Camera Citizen Advisory Committee which had formed in compliance with a 2007 law designed to force officials to think twice before rushing to activate cameras during a budget crunch. The study suggested that engineering improvements might even make cameras unnecessary at those two locations.

"Based on crash and violation data," the study stated, "the report identifies only two approaches that would warrant consideration of photo enforcement in the event that implementation of physical and signal timing changes are unsuccessful at reducing red light running."

CBS News uncovers suspicious activities regarding red light cameras between the cities and the camera vendors.