Red Light Running Cameras, is it time?

By Jay Anderson

A recent nationwide study of deadly crashes at traffic signals indicates that 22 percent failed to obey the signal. In 2006, the fatality rate approached 900 and 144,000 injuries where recorded, all a result of red light running (RLR). In many regions, since the 1980's violations have increased by more than 10 percent. Nearly half the deaths in RLR collisions are pedestrians and passengers in vehicles hit by the red light runner.

On average, a motorist runs a red light every twenty minutes according to a study in Fairfax, Virginia conducted at five busy intersections. Red light running was more frequent during peak travel times. Data from four states (without RLR cameras) collected at 19 intersections found that in 554 hours, 1775 violations where recorded, which is 3.2 violations per hour per intersection.

A 2007 study in Sacramento, California calculated that approximately 30 percent of red light runners were under the age of thirty. Gender differences where insignificant between violators and operators who did not run red lights. Not surprising, is as a group, red light runners were less likely to use seatbelts, have multiple speeding convictions, drove smaller and older vehicles than drivers who obeyed traffic signals.

According to the Federal Highway Safety Administration automated red light enforcement using cameras has been proven to be effective in reducing the incidence of red light running and the number of RLR crashes. Currently twenty two states and one territory have either passed legislation or are considering legislation to enforce red light running utilizing camera technology. Some local communities are installing red light cameras based on passage of local ordinances. Red light cameras have gained widespread popularity in the past decade but have been around for more than 40 years.

Law enforcement agencies world-wide claim these red light running cameras are a great addition to their communities. Not only do they act as a deterrent against red light running, they also allow police agencies to track habitual offenders. Patrolling intersections as often as would be required to cite operators who run red lights is impossible, simply due to the availability of resources. Cameras provide the opportunity for officers to focus on other enforcement requests. The system works 7 days a week, 24 hours a day.

Locally traffic engineers have adjusted the yellow signal timing at intersections that have a high incidence of red light running, and adjust other signals when data indicates a change is required. A study conducted in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, evaluated incremental effects on red light running of first lengthening yellow signal timing, followed by the introduction of red light enforcement. Yellow signal timing was increased by one second at two intersections where cameras were installed. Results showed that while increased yellow signal timing reduced red light violations by 36 percent, the addition of red light camera enforcement further reduced red light violations at these sites by 96 percent beyond levels achieved by the longer yellow signal.

The cameras intention is to deter violators by encouraging them to alter their behavior, not cite them. Drivers are warned through the use of public awareness campaigns and signs that cameras are in use. Typically fines paid by drivers who continue to run red lights produce the income. Generally the programs do not produce excess revenue according to independent audits of photo enforcement. Officials from the Delaware Department of Transportation say the cameras (20 on state roads) brought in more than $ 3 million in fines for 2007. Locally, one agency who could utilize the revenue is the Trauma Center. Directing the funds to a Trauma Center is a win-win for all our residents and visitors.

Red light cameras have the support of a large majority of the U.S. public. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) nationwide survey conducted by the Gallup Organization in 2002 found that 75 percent of drivers favored the use of red light running cameras. At least two dozen U.S. cities use the cameras for law enforcement along with numerous smaller communities.


Traffic safety professional, Jay Anderson, is executive director of the Stay Alive .... Just Drive! ™ crash prevention, education and awareness program. Visit us on the web: www.sajd.org