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Stop And Go - The Debate Continues On Red Light Cameras

New York City still uses photo enforcement at stoplights. Is it saving lives?

Recent studies reach conflicting conclusions over the safety benefits of red light cameras. This is aside from the ongoing debate on whether the controversial practice of "robo-tickets" is even constitutional.

A before-and-after study presented to the American Academy of Pediatricians concludes that red light cameras could save the lives of thousands of children (and adults). But recent studies in New York City, San Francisco and elsewhere cast doubt on the safety benefit. Anecdotally, cameras may reduce intersection collisions but increase rear-end collisions, especially when yellow lights are too brief.

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Conventional wisdom says red light cameras prevent T-bone collisions.

A study by the Traffic Safety Coalition found a correlation between weak laws on red light cameras and an increase in fatalities. In Houston, for example, motor vehicle accidents tripled at some intersections after cameras were taken down.

The coalition is funded by the traffic camera industry. However, their study gibes with similar research by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which found a 30 percent increase in fatal accidents at intersections where red light cameras were removed. The IIHS calculates that red light cameras in 79 cities around the country saved 1,300 lives in 2014.

Do traffic cameras cause other types of accidents?

Red light cameras are not purely a matter of public safety. Traffic citations for running a red light generate millions of dollars in revenue for cities. Critics complain that yellow lights at camera intersections are often artificially shortened to catch more violators.

In New York City, proponents say that cameras are catching fewer red light runners - a sign that the program is working because drivers know they will be fined. But opponents say that the cameras do not capture the increase in rear-end collisions when drivers slam on their brakes for yellow lights that last only 3.0 seconds. Those critics are backed by traffic engineering experts who say that extending the yellow light to 3.5 seconds or longer would actually make intersections safer for everyone.

Cameras are here to stay for now

New Jersey and Nassau County ended their red light programs because of doubts about their effectiveness and legality. But New York City is committed to Vision Zero, a plan to eradicate pedestrian traffic deaths. The 187 red light cameras at NYC intersections are an important component of that program.

Traffic cameras often play a role in personal injury litigation, too. The camera may catch a negligent driver who runs a red light and causes a crash. But the camera does not show what happened before an accident (such as distracted driving) or capture rear-end crashes beyond the camera angle. It is always advisable to consult a car accident lawyer who can preserve evidence and conduct a proper investigation.

Have you received a red light ticket? Have you been hit by a red light runner ... or struck from behind at a camera intersection?

Sources: Red light cameras may be causing more harm than good (WPIX-TV), Red light cameras save children's lives (Washington Post)

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