Car Industry

Red light cameras save lives, study shows

...Even though the companies behind the cameras might be evil money-grubbers hell bent on fleecing municipalities and citizens alike.

The Washington Post/Getty Images
Now playing: Watch this: AutoComplete for July 28, 2016: Consumer groups call...
1:02
red-light-cameras-2.jpg

Do they make roads safer? Unequivocally. Are they misused and largely treated as revenue generators? In many cases, yes.

Kathryn Scott Osler/Denver Post/Getty Images

Red light cameras get a bad rap, and rightfully so. It's not the idea of the camera itself that's an issue, it's usually the execution that mucks everything up. But despite being controlled by folks that care more about revenue generation, these cameras really do save lives, and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has some research to back up that assertion.

The IIHS, a non-governmental organization that monitors and tests vehicle safety, released a new study showing that red light cameras in 79 US cities have saved some 1,300 lives through 2014.

Naturally, automated enforcement creates a deterrent effect. According to IIHS' data, there are 21 percent fewer red light crashes per capita in cities that have turned on red light cameras. In cities that have turned them off, fatal red-light-running crashes per capita increased 30 percent, compared to the number it would have been if the cities had left them on. Other types of crash also decrease in the presence of cameras, thanks to that deterrent effect.

IIHS makes sure to note that "opposition from a vocal minority has led some jurisdictions to shut off their cameras." That's a bit reductive. Let's use Chicago as an example. The city canceled its contract with camera company Redflex after it was allegedly bribing government officials and failing to monitor for strange spikes in ticket issuances. A judge also voided thousands of red-light tickets after he determined the tickets violated the right to due process. That sure doesn't sound like it's in drivers' best interests.

There's also the matter of changing other things to increase red-light camera revenue. While the DOT may recommend longer yellow lights to give drivers more time to make the right decision, some cities have shortened yellows in a thinly veiled effort to ramp up camera revenue.

Don't forget, that's what the private companies behind these cameras are interested in -- money. Not safety. That's just a happy side effect. And so long as revenue for cities and private organizations remains the driving factor in installing these cameras, there will be good reason to get rid of them. Safety is critical, yes, but there's bound to be a better solution than the status quo.