Red Light Cameras On The Decline, As Everyone Realizes They Don't Make Roads Safer, They Just Make Money
from the good-riddance dept
For many years we’ve written about the problems of red light cameras. Installed over the past few years in many cities, the public statements supporting them were always about increased safety on our roads. However, as we’ve noted, plenty of studies showed that the cameras actually tended to increase accidents, showed little to no safety benefit, and were almost always driven by monetary incentives. Because of this, there were numerous reports of various municipalities actually deciding to decrease the time on yellow lights, thereby getting more money from tickets, but massively increasing the safety risk. Multiple studies have shown that the one way to make intersections safer is to increase the yellow light time — but in order to make more money, many were decreasing it (often below legal limits).
The anger over these tactics has been increasing quite a bit over the past few years and a variety of cities decided to cancel their programs, causing the leading company providing these systems (who takes a large cut of every ticket), Redflex, to face some financial difficulties.
It appears that the trends are definitely against red light cameras. Cyrus Farivar has a great article (though, annoyingly paginated) about the decline in red light cameras, noting that 2013 was the first year where more red light camera systems were turned off than turned on.
Redflex’s US operations took a hit in 2013 as the company installed 54 new systems—but removed 101. Redflex’s recent fiscal report (PDF) shows that its after-tax net profits in a six-month period have dropped by half: plummeting from $7.1 million in the first half of 2012 to $3.6 million in the first six months of 2013.
Meanwhile, the article also takes on the various “competing studies” concerning red light cameras, and pointing to one study that compared a whole bunch of the studies, evaluated their methodologies, and found that the ones that showed benefits to red light cameras, almost invariably had dreadful methodologies that didn’t take into account the basic variability in accidents at any given intersection, and the likelihood of a return to the mean (in short: intersections with an abnormally large number of accidents frequently see that amount go down the following year — and red light camera makers and the studies supporting them rarely took into account that variability, but assigned such a decrease to the cameras). When correcting for such problems, the study of studies found the data showed that red light cameras are a problem, not a solution:
The meta-analysis concluded that, when only the best studies were considered, “The results of the meta-analysis are rather unfavorable for RLCs… According to the results from these studies, right-angle collisions are reduced by about 10 percent, rear-end collisions increase significantly by about 40 percent, and the overall effect on all types of crashes is an increase by about 15 percent. Only studies with weaker study designs yield results that are more favorable for RLCs.”
The study which those researches said had the best methodology also found significant negative impact overall:
the increase in costs from the increase in rear-end crashes more than offset the reduction in costs from the decrease in red light running crashes.
Hopefully, this is the beginning of the end for red light cameras. We’re all for making intersections safer, but the way to do that is to increase the time on yellow lights — and for places that still don’t have this: have a brief interval where lights in both directions are red, rather than switching simultaneously to red in one direction and green in the other. And yes, every time I make that last point, people who don’t live in places where that’s the case marvel that any place in the world has this, but it’s true in many, many places. Switching that to having an interval with both directions red, plus a longer yellow light, will actually make people safer, and yet… it doesn’t make any more money, so very few have been willing to make this simple switch.