IIHS Study Shows Red-Light Cameras Save Lives

"The cities that have the courage to use red light cameras despite the political backlash are saving lives," the institute's president, Adrian Lund, said Monday.

A study released Monday by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety shows red-light cameras saved 159 lives in 2004-08 in 14 large U.S. cities. They would have prevented 815 deaths if used during that period in the 99 large U.S. cities with more than 200,000 residents, it shows.

"The cities that have the courage to use red light cameras despite the political backlash are saving lives," said the institute's president, Adrian Lund.

The researchers compared those 99 cities with populations over 200,000, the researchers compared those that had red-light camera programs with those that did not; to see how the rate of fatal crashes changed after cameras were introduced, they compared two periods -- 2004-08 and 1992-96. Cities that had cameras during 1992-96 and those with cameras for only part of 2004-2008 were excluded from the analysis.

In the 14 cities that had cameras during 2004-08, the combined per capita rate of fatal red light running crashes fell 35 percent from the rate of 1992-96. The rate dropped in the 48 cities without camera programs in either period by only 14 percent, so the researchers concluded the rate of fatal red-light-running crashes in cities with cameras in 2004-08 was 24 percent lower than it would have been without cameras. That means 74 fewer such crashes and 83 lives saved, they found. The rate of all fatal crashes at intersections with signals fell 14 percent in the camera cities and rose 2 percent in cities without cameras. "In the camera cities, there were 17 percent fewer fatal crashes per capita at intersections with signals in 2004-08 than would have been expected. That translates into 159 people who are alive because of the automated enforcement programs," according to IIHS.

"Somehow, the people who get tickets because they have broken the law have been cast as the victims," Lund said. "We rarely hear about the real victims — the people who are killed or injured by these lawbreakers." IIHS says drivers who ran red lights killed 676 people and injured an estimated 113,000 in 2009, and nearly two-thirds of those victims were people other than the red-light-running drivers. They were occupants of other vehicles, passengers in the red-light runners' vehicles, bicyclists, or pedestrians.

"Examining a large group of cities over several years allowed us to take a close look at the most serious crashes, the ones that claim people's lives," said Anne McCartt, the IIHS senior vice president for research and a co-author of the study. "Our analysis shows that red light cameras are making intersections safer."

IIHS said the largest drop in the rate of fatal red-light-running crashes was in Chandler, Ariz., with a 79 percent drop. Raleigh, N.C., and Bakersfield, Calif., experienced increases. "We don't know exactly why the data from Raleigh and Bakersfield didn't line up with what we found elsewhere," McCartt said. "Both cities have expanded geographically over the past two decades, and that probably has a lot to do with it."

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