Red Light Cameras Do Not Cause Fewer Car Accidents, CWRU Study Finds


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For years, traffic cameras have been a highly contested issue in Ohio on both sides of the political divide. Now a study by researchers from Case Western Reserve University and Arizona State University has found that traffic cameras are not causing fewer accidents, as officials want to claim, but could potentially be causing more.

Taking nearly 12 years of police-gathered accident data from the Houston and Dallas areas, researchers Justin Gallagher (of CWRU) and Paul J. Fisher (of Arizona), found no evidence of reduced accidents or injuries in high-traffic areas where cameras were installed, only a variance in the kind of accidents — fewer T-bone crashes and more rear-end collisions.

"Once drivers knew about the cameras, they appeared to accept a higher accident risk from slamming on their brakes at yellow lights to avoid an expensive traffic citation, thereby decreasing safety for themselves and other drivers," Gallagher, an assistant professor of economics at CWRU, told

While those on the receiving end of a red light camera ticket may see these policies as a way for cities to make an easy buck, officials always cite safety as the No. 1 reason for these installations. And as the study points out, millions of Americans are injured in automobile accidents each year, and just in 2014, nearly 37,000 people were killed. For those who live in a city, the majority of accidents occur at an intersection of some kind.

In trying to combat these ugly numbers, 23 states have implemented traffic camera programs. But what the study makes clear is that enforcement cameras may not be the answer in saving more lives. 

While it can't be proved from the study that the cameras themselves cause more accidents, the statistics show that more rear-end accidents do take place when cameras are present.

Since 2014, Cleveland has banned the use of traffic light cameras, but nearby cities like Parma are still using the technology.

Read the whole 47-page published study, Criminal Deterrence When There are Offsetting Risks: Traffic Cameras, Vehicular Accidents, and Public Safety, right here.

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