Study: When Red Light Cameras Go Dark, Violations Skyrocket

Friday, August 19, 2011 - 12:08 PM

Houston Texas, is poised to become the second large city in America to turn off its red light cameras this summer, following Los Angeles.  The cities came to their decisions differently, but the outcome, if a study underway by the Texas Transportation Institute is any guide, will likely be the same:  there will be more people running red lights than did before there were any cameras in the first place.

Troy Walden, an associate research scientist at TTI, said a study of one typical town, which he wouldn't name because the study hasn't been released, showed that weekly red light violations decreased from 2,445 to 1,738 when red light cameras were installed.  But after they were removed, violations rose to 4,755.

"Once the red light cameras were inactive, we saw an increase of violations about twice as many as what you had seen" before the cameras were in place, Walden said in an interview with Transportation Nation.  Walden said he believed similar results would be seen in other cities that removed the cameras.

As of this summer, that list will include two of the largest cities in America, Houston and Los Angeles.

On a gut level,  it's  easy to hate red-light cameras at first blush -- the idea you can be caught, and fined by an electronic eye feels particularly odious.   In Los Angeles, the robotic transaction  would result in a ticket in your mailbox of  almost $500, and because of a vagary in California Law, it turned out the cameras were a money-losing proposition for the city.

In Houston, the situation is more complex -- the Mayor, Annise Parker, supports the cameras, but following a referendum to remove them and a complex legal dispute with the private contractor running the cameras, she said this week the cameras would go dark.

(Listen to the Marketplace version of this story here.)

"I’m very clear the cameras are going to go off," Parker said in a press conference this week. "I’m also very clear I believe in red light cameras. I think the vote was a mistake."

Safety studies show the cameras save lives -- more than 150 in a 5-year period in the fourteen biggest cities in the country,  according to Anne Fleming, a spokesperson for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.   A TTI study earlier this summer found the most dangerous crashes declined by 32 percent.    Those crashes are the so-called "T-bone" crashes, which cause more injury and death than rear-end crashes, which may tick up after red light cameras are installed.

Fleming says she doesn't think Los Angeles and Houston are at the crest of a wave: " The opponents of red light cameras are extremely vocal.  They have decided that the people getting the tickets are the victims, not the people who are killed in red light running crashes."

She says some 540 localities still use the cameras.



Comments [4]


@Dewayne Norris:
- "The cameras are at the high volume intersections for one reason and that is to make money. Period. End of sentence!"

Assuming that the red light cameras are, at least in part, installed to make money, does that negate any positive effect they have on lowering accident rates at the intersections?

- "When the cameras are off, the higher volume of traffic returns and traffic patterns return to normal."

Doesn't the fact that "weekly red light violations decreased from 2,445 to 1,738 when red light cameras were installed. But after they were removed, violations rose to 4,755" refute your point? A return to "normal" would be 2,445 violations. Instead, the rate jumps to 4,755, almost double that before the the red light cameras were installed.

Aug. 22 2011 03:32 PM
byron schirmbeck

Walden did a VERY poor study, if he was honest he would disclose in these pro camera press releases that his studies have not been peer reviewed properly, an earlier study he did was discredited by USF health department. His study did show that basically half of the studied cities saw no decrease or an increase in accidents as much as 550%. If you want to see the real facts on the camera performance in Texas go to

Aug. 20 2011 11:16 AM
Dewayne Norris

>Bob Wilson. Thank You! Thank You! Thank you! You got it right. Red light cameras change traffic patterns and these "impartial" studies completely ignore that fact. When the cameras are off, the higher volume of traffic returns and traffic patterns return to normal. The cameras are at the high volume intersections for one reason and that is to make money. Period. End of sentence!

Aug. 19 2011 09:15 PM
Bob Wilson

You should take the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety "death study" results with a grain of salt(or maybe a pound of it). The IIHS member organizations make millions every year off of red light cameras, and this study assumes that red light cameras are the only reason for the decline in intersection deaths. In other words, intersection engineering changes and changing traffic volumes are completely ignored by their study so they can promote red light cameras. They also chose a very small percentage of red-light-camera-installed-cities, and they cherry-picked the time periods for their study to fit their desired results. This study is about as valid as when the tobacco industry claimed that cigarette smoking increases lung capacity.

Aug. 19 2011 01:22 PM

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