Are Red-Light Cameras Effective Means of Improving Safety?

Since initiating the program more than a decade ago, the use of red-light cameras has been highly debated. While some focus on the legality of the cameras in general, our primary concern is whether they are effective or not in improving safety. What seems to be the problem is in the way in which the term “effective” is viewed, in terms of reducing injuries and fatalities versus simply reducing crashes in general. On one end, there is the argument that even though red-light cameras decrease side-impact collisions, they increase rear-end collisions, and therefore add to the overall crash rate. On the other end, there is the argument that decreasing right-angle collisions is more beneficial because these accidents are more likely to cause serious injury or fatality than are rear-end collisions.

As injury attorneys, it is the latter argument that we find to be more appropriate in evaluating the efficacy of red-light cameras. To us, it seems more logical to take a ‘lesser of two evils’ approach, meaning that we’d rather see less persons injured or killed, than just a reduction in crashes overall. Consider the data…

In 2005, the Federal Highway Administration conducted a study evaluating the safety of red-light cameras (RLC), using post-camera-installation crash data in seven jurisdictions known to have significant RLC programs. In analyzing the aggregate effect of RLCs, they found a nearly 25% decrease in right-angle crashes, but a 15% increase in rear-end collisions. In terms of the actual crash frequency amongst the sample group used in the study, the use of RLC programs resulted in 379 fewer right-angle collisions, but 375 more rear-ends.

Some have interpreted these figures to mean that RLC programs are ineffective, because they reduce nearly the same amount of accidents that they cause, or offset one another. However, such a conclusion fails to take into account the fact that right-angle crashes are almost 3x more likely to cause fatality or injury than are rear-end collisions. Moreover, even when a victim is injured in a rear-end crash, the injuries are often minor and/or non-incapacitating. This variation in crash severity can be attributed to many factors:

  • Directional positioning upon impact. Vehicles facing same direction in rear-ends, but opposing directions in right-angles
  • Vehicle Protection. Both vehicles have a crumple zone in rear-ends, but only one vehicle does in right-angles. Also, many vehicles have front airbags, but no side-impact airbags.
  • Speed. Rear-ends commonly occur at relatively low speeds as the driver decelerates, whereas right-angles are more likely to occur at higher speeds as the driver accelerates.

In returning to our initial inquiry regarding the effectiveness of red-light cameras, the answer seems quite clear—the value of reducing right-angle collisions supersedes the harm of increasing rear-end collisions, and therefore RLCs are an effective means of improving safety.

If you or a loved one were involved in an accident in or around the Chicago area, contact the Injury Lawyers of Zneimer & Zneimer P.C. at 773-516-4100, or send us a message online. Consultation is FREE, and we never charge a fee unless we recover on your behalf.