Red-light-running crash deaths on the rise again
By Steven A. Meyerowitz|July 30, 2018 at 12:00 AM
More than 800 people died in crashes involving red light running in 2016, an increase of 17% since 2012, an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) analysis found. The increase came as fewer U.S. communities were using red light cameras to enforce the law and reduce crashes.
Red light camera checklist
To encourage cities and localities to use automated enforcement, four national safety organizations have developed a red light camera checklist for local policymakers, law enforcement agencies and transportation officials.
Released by the AAA, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), and the National Safety Council, the checklist provides practical instructions for planning, implementing, and evaluating red light camera programs, including steps to help communities build and maintain public support.
“We developed the guidelines to help communities avoid the problems that have undermined programs in the past,” said the IIHS’s president, David Harkey. “We know turning off cameras results in more crashes, injuries and deaths, so it’s important that camera programs succeed.”
Red light cameras can help save lives
“Red light cameras can play a role in improving traffic safety for all road users and should be placed where they can benefit a community, like at intersections with high numbers of fatalities,” said Jill Ingrassia, the AAA’s managing director of government relations and traffic safety advocacy.
“When properly implemented, red light cameras can help save lives and can serve to supplement law enforcement efforts, rather than generate revenue for governments. This new set of guidelines is an excellent starting point in ensuring adequate safeguards are put in place to maintain the public’s trust.”
Most common factor in urban crashes
Red light running is one of the most common factors in urban crashes. More than half the people killed in red-light-running crashes are pedestrians, bicyclists, and people in other vehicles hit by the red light runners.
“Red light cameras are proven lifesavers,” added Cathy Chase, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. “As states and cities consider ways to reduce motor vehicle crash deaths and injuries, the new red light camera checklist will be a vital tool to reinvigorate waning programs, restart discontinued programs, and revolutionize new successful programs.”
“Intersections are some of the most dangerous places on our roadways,” said Deborah A.P. Hersman, the president and chief executive officer of the National Safety Council. “Automated enforcement technology saves lives, and this checklist helps put communities on a road to zero deaths.”
More camera programs discontinued than initiated
As of July 2018, 421 communities had red light camera programs, down from 533 that had a program at any time during 2012. Although new camera programs continue to be added, the total number of camera programs declined because more programs were discontinued than were initiated.
Commonly cited reasons for turning off cameras included a reduction in camera citations, difficulty sustaining the financial viability of the program, and community opposition.
Deaths in red-light-running crashes, 2000-2016
- 2000: 937
- 2001: 1,009
- 2002: 939
- 2003: 957
- 2004: 946
- 2005: 813
- 2006: 900
- 2007: 914
- 2008: 772
- 2009: 686
- 2010: 681
- 2011: 719
- 2012: 696
- 2013: 704
- 2014: 711
- 2015: 786
- 2016: 811
As the number of programs has declined, deaths in red-light-running crashes increased from 696 in 2012 to 811 in 2016, the most recent year for which data was available. Fewer red light camera programs are not the sole reason for the increase. Many factors, especially the economic recovery, are likely playing a significant role.
Shuttering camera programs
Still, IIHS research in 2016 showed that shuttering camera programs increased fatal crash rates. The study compared trends in annual crash rates in 14 cities that ended camera programs during 2010-2014 with trends in crash rates in 29 regionally matched cities that continued their camera programs.
The fatal red-light-running crash rate was 30% higher in cities that turned off cameras than it would have been if the cameras remained on. The rate of all fatal crashes at signalized intersections was 16% higher.
The red light camera checklist includes recommendations for planning, oversight, and sustained public engagement. Surveys show that the public supports red light camera enforcement, but support can erode when programs are poorly run, or perceived to be centered on generating revenue rather than on preventing crashes.
Assessment of intersections
First steps include careful assessment of intersections where red light running is a problem. Communities need to ensure that steps are taken to evaluate road design and signal timing. Adequate yellow light phases, for example, have been shown to reduce red light running and crashes.
The checklist recommends that policymakers organize a community advisory committee made up of stakeholders such as law enforcement, victim advocates, school officials, and residents to make suggestions on the development of a program.
Including stakeholders in the planning phase, establishing a strong system for data collection and monitoring and targeting only the violations with the greatest safety consequences are steps that build public confidence.
Regular program evaluation
In the long term, communities need to plan for regular program evaluation based on crash and infraction data. The guide discourages simple before-and-after comparisons of crashes because the numbers can be skewed by factors such as the ups and downs of the economy. Instead, comparisons should be made using proper control intersections that are not subject to the known “spillover effect,” whereby crashes are reduced at intersections throughout a community, not just at the camera sites.
The recommendations were based on input from law enforcement and community leaders who attended a red light camera forum organized by IIHS in 2016 and subsequent research on best practices. Recommendations also were drawn from best practice guidelines published by the National Cooperative Highway Research Program.