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Evidence Suggests Red Light Cameras Increase Some Accidents

August 18, 2005

Recent studies in Virginia, North Carolina and the UK suggest that the number of accidents in areas with red light enforcement and speed cameras has actually increased.A study performed late last year by the Virginia Transportation Research Council shows an overall increase in injury accidents where the devices are installed, according to a report on thenewspaper.com. The VTRC report states “the cameras are contributing to a definite increase in rear-end crashes, a possible decrease in angle crashes, a net decrease in injury crashes attributable to red light running, and an increase in total injury crashes.” The cameras are correlated with an increase in total crashes of 8 to 17 percent, the report said.Researchers at the North Carolina Urban Transit Institute conducted a study that looked at a 57-month period and accounted for dozens of variables such as weather and traffic ignored in previous studies. The study, released July 7, 2004, states in part that “the results do not support the conventional wisdom expressed in recent literature and popular press that red light cameras reduce accidents...In many ways, the evidence points toward the installation of RLCs as a detriment to safety.”A study funded by the UK Department for Transport shows a 55 percent increase in injury accidents when speed cameras (not at red lights) are used on highway work zones and a 31 percent increase when used on freeways without construction projects, according to a report on thenewspaper.com. According to the study, the "non-works [personal injury accident] rate is significantly higher for the sites with speed cameras than the rate for sites without."The executive summary of this report is misleading, thenewspaper.com article concludes, as it states an aggregate accident rate drop that includes those with manned police patrol cars in the work zones. A July report by the National Motorists Association conducted in Davenport, Iowa said that red light cameras were associated with higher levels and severity of several types of auto crashes. Those included "statistically significant" increases in rear-end crashes and sideswipes.However, local officials dispute those findings and say a review of accident reports show that driver error was the cause for most crashes, according to the Quad City Times.In Philadelphia, citizens cannot access red light camera data to see if the program is actually working. A provision in the state law puts photographs, written records, reports, facsimiles, names, addresses, and "the number of violations" off limits to the public, according to a Philadelphia Enquirer article.Mulvihill Intelligent Control Systems, the company that has installed the cameras and manages them for the Parking Authority, receives a flat fee of $4,995 a month for each camera system.City officials in Fresno, Calif., are recommending the removal its red light cameras, according to a story in the Fresno Bee on July 28. Only 19 percent of drivers captured by the cameras are cited, due to the inability of the current cameras' technology to accurately identify violators.
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