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Republican Leader Takes Aim at Red-Light Cameras

Posted: September 1st, 2007 @ 10:53pm

Source: Reuters, May 22, 2001

WASHINGTON - Red-light cameras provide local governments with millions of dollars in revenue but their safety benefits are doubtful and longer yellow lights would slash violations, according to a congressional report due out on Wednesday.

The study by the office of U.S. House of Representatives Majority Leader Dick Armey says the huge revenue streams generated by the cameras coincide with disinterest in addressing traffic problems caused by shortened yellow lights.

"Red light cameras present a perverse disincentive for local jurisdictions to fix intersections with excessive red light entries, since this 'problem' brings in millions in revenues,'' a draft of the report released Tuesday concludes.

The cameras, installed at city intersections in about 40 U.S. communities so far, automatically photograph the vehicles and license plates of drivers who run red lights.

New York city collected $9 million in revenue from its camera program last year.

The report says studies finding safety benefits from the red light cameras often ignore increases in rear-end collisions that result from people braking suddenly for fear of being ticketed.

Data showing that almost 80 percent of red light violations occur within the first second of the red light strongly suggest inadequate yellow time is the major cause of red-light running, the report said.

But just last month, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety said there was "solid evidence'' the red light cameras were cutting crashes and improving the way people drive.


The insurance industry group, which studies auto-related safety issues, cited accident figures in Oxnard, California, to highlight the benefits of red-light cameras.

Since the cameras appeared in Oxnard in 1997, there had been a 32 percent decline in front-into-side vehicle collisions -- the type most commonly associated with red-light running.

Crashes declined throughout Oxnard even though only 11 of the city's 125 intersections with traffic signals were equipped with cameras, the insurance group said.

Armey's office said the Oxnard study's connection between area accidents and red light cameras was only implied as the crash data was not detailed enough to identify crashes that were specifically red light running events.

"The only documented benefit to red light cameras is to the pocketbook of local governments,'' the report said.

Earlier this month, Armey took aim at National Park Service plans to use radar cameras to ticket speeders on busy parkways around the national's capital saying it was a step toward a ''surveillance state.''

Insurance institute spokesman Stephen Oesch, who had not seen the Armey study, said the Oxnard data demonstrated the benefits of cameras to curb red light running -- which kills 750 people a year in the United States.

"Light timing is an important tool but there are still people who will run red lights,'' Oesch said.

Lockheed Martin IMS, a Lockheed Martin Corp. unit, is a major supplier of photo enforcement systems to governments in the United States and Canada.

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