Cities in 24 states and Washington D.C. use red light cameras to catch drivers who aren’t practicing defensive driving by running red lights and to decrease accidents. However, as these lights have become more commonplace over the past 15 years, many drivers have become fed up with that flashing light indicating that an expensive ticket is on the way.
The idea behind red light cameras seems great on the surface. The cameras catch violators of the law who often cause harmful accidents and help to deter violators from running red lights to begin with. However, as these cameras have been introduced, additional problems have surfaced causing many to wonder if these cameras are as helpful as proponents claim.
While a 2011 study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found red light cameras decreased fatal accidents by 24 percent, a 2005 study by the Federal Highway Administration found an increase in rear-end crashes. Researchers said the increased rear-ends were most likely the result of drivers hitting the breaks at a yellow light to avoid a ticket.
While not completely opposed to using red light cameras, the FHA did recommend trying alternate solutions before employing a camera. According to the administration, increasing yellow light time by one second can cause a 40 percent decrease in crashes at intersections.
Stories have surfaced throughout the U.S. of cameras issuing tickets to drivers who had done nothing wrong. The majority of red light cameras are controlled by private companies who hold a contract with the city. Many of these problems result because of a miscommunication between the city and the company, such as a city switching a red left turn light to a blinking yellow and the cameras not being updated with the change. This happened in Cary, N.C. where at least 31 false violations were issued before the mixup was cleared up.
With all of the negative incidents, residents of cities that use red light cameras have been left wondering if the cameras are more about raising money than enforcing the law. Of course, some cities do offer a defensive driving course in lieu of a fine but not all of them. Large cities can make millions off of these cameras, and the private companies that create the cameras often share a large percentage of the profit.
Redflex, one of the biggest red light camera companies, had about 2,000 cameras in operation in 2011, bringing in more than $92 million in revenue. Many residents have been outraged after finding out that their city has decreased yellow light times below recommended limits, most likely to increase the number of tickets and revenue.
Like any other government issue, red light cameras are heavily lobbied by both sides of the debate. Sometimes the lobbyists have crossed ethical lines, including representatives of Redflex paying for hotel rooms and entertainment for city officials.
With all of the other concerns aside, some hold out that red light cameras should not be used on a more theoretical level. The constitution defends an individuals right to a fair trial, including the ability to face his or her accuser. How does one take a camera to court? Others feel the cameras are a violation of privacy and could be used by the government to spy on individuals. In either case the controversy is likely to continue as more cities adopt red light cameras and others abandon them as constituents have come to oppose them.
Sladen West is a freelance writer dedicated to helping others stay safe through general auto safety education and a good defensive driving course promotion.