Red Light Cameras Cause More Accidents, Study Shows

Posted May 30, 2013 in Traffic tickets and accidents by

Rear end accident


Ever get a ticket in the mail? States across the nation have unveiled red light camera programs over the past decade, which purportedly catch and ticket people who run lights in order to improve safety and reduce accidents.

However, a recent study in Philadelphia calls the public safety claims into question, finding that accidents increased by 15 to 18 percent after certain intersections installed the cameras.

Nevertheless, the cameras aren’t going away anytime soon, having brought in over $55 million at $100 per ticket since the program’s inception in 2005. Other cities in Pennsylvania are expected to soon roll out their own programs.

Pennsylvania is not alone in the automated ticketing business: Twenty-one states plus Washington D.C., permit red light cameras, while nine have specifically banned their use, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. 

The programs have proven controversial, rife with questions about whether they actually increase safety or are just another way for bloated bureaucracies to siphon more money away from private citizens. In a nod to anti-camera activists, legislators in Arizona, Florida, Iowa and other states are considering bills that would ditch their respective programs.


Rear End Accident

The Philadelphia study looked at two intersections five years before and five years after camera installation, and suggests that cameras might cause more accidents than they prevent.

Attorney Lawrence Berezin headshot

Lawrence Berezin

“What was happening is that the lead car was stopping suddenly at intersections out of fear of being caught by the red light camera and getting a red light ticket,” notes Lawrence Berezin, a retired plaintiff attorney who runs the New York Parking Ticket website. “However, the car directly behind the lead car (that was following too closely to begin with) is thinking beat the light, or is taken by surprise by the lead car suddenly hitting the brakes.”

“The little physics I know reminds me that two objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time, and whack! Rear end accident,” Berezin says.

Camera proponents have cited other studies that do show decreases in accidents, so their actual effectiveness for purposes of public safety remains in dispute.


Revenue-Based System

Opponents of red light cams note that an overwhelming majority of tickets are for turning right on red, not the more dangerous act of driving straight through an intersection. They point out that reducing violations is as simple as extending yellow lights so drivers don’t advance into the intersection on yellow only to still be there when the light changes.

Furthermore, legal questions are raised by the inability of consumers to defend themselves, because they don’t receive notice until months after an alleged infraction. What’s more, the mail-in system holds the owner of the car, not the driver, responsible.

However, whether the cameras work or not takes a back seat to the money that they bring in to public and private entities alike. Activists have characterized them as a revenue-based system, noting that if the cameras were effective at stopping light running they would put themselves out of business.

One thing is certain: The companies that install and maintain the cameras get paid, regardless of whether they are safe, legal or effective. In Pennsylvania the rollout of the program had a lucrative twist when a camera company made substantial donations to a number of politicians, who returned the favor by writing the 2003 law to mandate that the cameras use obsolete film technology so the generous vendor would be assured of the contract.


Fight Your Ticket

What if you do end up with a red light ticket in the mail? Jason Diamond at Florida firm Kistner and Diamond lays out some suggestions for fighting it:

  • Make sure the photo of the license plate isn’t blurry.
  • Argue that you weren’t the driver of the car.
  • Depending on the jurisdiction, point out if there was no sign warning about the cameras, or that the sign was obstructed.

You can also find additional strategies in our video, “5 Ways to Fight a Red Light Traffic Ticket.”

Of course, the use of camera-tickets puts the onus on the defendant to prove he or she is not the one who committed the violation, as opposed to the burden being on the state to bring a conviction.

“With red light camera tickets, the State assumes it was you without having to prove it, and you must prove it wasn’t by turning in your wife, son or friend,” Diamond writes. “Sounds like something you would hear about in North Korea or the old Soviet Union.”

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