On Wednesday, the City Council approved the use of red-light cameras to automatically ticket anyone running a red-light at certain intersections. The cameras snap a picture of cars running red-lights, and then a private company sends out the fine to the car’s owner.
The matter was on the Council’s consent agenda (where dozens of items are grouped to be approved in a single vote), and I did not pull it to address the issue independently. I’ve had my say about the red-light cameras, and it is clear that the majority of the council approves of them.
A few years ago, my mother and step-dad were hit by a driver who ran a red-light, so I have a particular interest in this issue. On first blush, red-light cameras are a no-brainer. Who doesn’t want to decrease traffic accidents and fatalities? But therein lies the question: Do red-light cameras really increase public safety, or are they just a revenue generator for cities?
The research suggests the latter. In fact, a recent Washington Post article analyzing the use of red-light cameras in Washington, D.C. revealed that accidents and fatalities did not decrease where red-light cameras were used. A study by the Federal Highway Administration confirms that rear-end collisions actually increase where cameras are used.
Seeing I was in the minority on this issue, I have requested that city staff keep extensive records on collisions and fatalities at the intersections where we are posting cameras. After a year’s time, we will compare the post-camera statistics with the pre-camera numbers. That way we can tell if the cameras are actually improving safety. If they are more of a hazard than benefit, and if they’re just a revenue-generating mechanism, we’ll need to reconsider. I, for one, remain skeptical, but hope to be proved wrong.