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Do red light cameras work?

Tuesday, Jan 26, 2016

* Interesting

The saving grace for getting a $100 ticket from a red-light camera is the belief that the expensive fine could reduce crashes and even save lives.

But that’s not always what happens, a Daily Herald analysis of 55 intersections across 29 suburbs shows. Instead of declining, crashes — and especially more serious collisions — increased or stayed the same at some intersections after cameras were installed.

For example, crashes involving injuries went up or stayed the same at nearly half the intersections where that data was reported.

And crashes considered hazardous by transportation experts remained constant or increased at one-quarter of intersections where that data was reported.

* And then there’s this little twist

Red-light cameras began proliferating at suburban intersections in 2009 with the justification that they would prevent crashes.

The same year, the Illinois Department of Transportation raised the dollar threshold necessary to report property damage crashes from $500 to $1,500.

In one fell swoop, reported crashes shrank statewide by 30 percent — from an average of 413,235 a year to an average of 287,718, IDOT officials said. […]

At first glance, the data shows crashes decreased at 85.5 percent of suburban intersections after red-light cameras were installed.

But a closer look at cameras installed after 2009 at 14 suburban intersections shows their success rate is much lower. In the majority of cases, crashes dropped before the cameras were put up, coinciding with the 2009 IDOT change, and then rose after the cameras were installed.

You can’t help but wonder whether the red light cam bill and the IDOT recalibration were connected. So far, the Daily Herald hasn’t connected those dots. We’ll see.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - @MisterJayEm - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 11:18 am:

    “Do red light cameras work?”

    Certainly. Their purpose is to collect revenue.

    – MrJM

  2. - Team Sleep - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 11:20 am:

    “I’ll take ‘Things that make Dan Duffy angry!’ for $1,000, Alex.”

  3. - DuPage - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 11:22 am:

    The only good thing about a red light camera ticket is it does not go on the drivers license as a moving violation. If a cop writes a ticket it goes on record of the driver and insurance rates could go up.

  4. - HJohn - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 11:26 am:

    I think the law of unintended consequences is at work as well. Two of the types of behaviors when a light turns yellow include: mashing brakes to make the stop, and hitting the gas to make the light. When a brake masher is in front of a gas masher, then accidents increase. Sure, the second car is responsible to maintain a safe distances, but that isn’t much solace to the car they hit.

    I’m also wary of issues like this. Seems the cameras are more about revenues than safety, and that is the wrong agenda for law enforcement

  5. - Flynn's Mom - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 11:27 am:

    They seemed to be working the day I got a ticket!!

  6. - Anonymous - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 11:30 am:

    They work to generate moneyfor the government, the companies and for Madigan precinct captains named Bills.

  7. - downstater - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 11:32 am:

    Thankfully we don’t have them in any of the towns/cities in frequent in the Metro East, but on the St. Louis side, I’ve seen more rear-end accidents because of people slamming on the brakes when they see a yellow light (for fear of getting caught running a red light by the camera) than t-bone accidents from people running red lights. It’s nothing more than a cheap money grab and a violation of our 6th Amendment rights.

  8. - crazybleedingheart - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 11:37 am:

    Maybe we should just develop a fair tax plan that can raise the revenue we need to pay for stuff.

    You know, rather than paying 2 private companies (insurance premiums, camera contracts) a giant cut in order to run a little side hustle tax.

    See also: gambling, sin tax, nearly every other revenue proposal generated while we dodge the inevitable and equitable solution.

  9. - crazybleedingheart - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 11:37 am:

    “It doesn’t work and it makes you less safe, but just look at the money we make (from you)”

  10. - Joe M - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 11:45 am:

    Cities in Arizona like Scottsdale have perfected this type of revenue collecting down to an art. It allows “alternative service” for hand delivering summons that were ignored. The commercial companies that deliver the summons cut corners and if someone isn’t home they leave it at their door. Or as been documented, they never make any attempt to deliver the summons and say they did. Scottsdale has even been known to track down out of state drivers back in their home states. Scottsdale city court collected about $4 million in photo-radar fines and related fees in fiscal 2013-14, according to an audit of the city’s photo-enforcement contract. After paying the company that has the contract however, they only netted about $500,000

  11. - Six Degrees of Separation - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 11:46 am:

    The raising of the reportable property damage limit from $500 to $1500 was long overdue. You can’t repair much more than a paint scratch for $500 anymore. Not sure if the red light camera proliferation had much to do with it.

  12. - NoGifts - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 11:46 am:

    Yes they work. They reduce red light running. Crashes rise and fall with rising and declining traffic, so looking at the number of crashes over a period of time without that information isn’t meaningful.

  13. - Federalist - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 12:01 pm:

    It has always been about governments raising more revenue with “Safety” as an excuse.

  14. - Anonymous - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 12:18 pm:

    == You can’t help but wonder whether the red light cam bill and the IDOT recalibration were connected. ==

    That is a lot of tin foil…

  15. - plutocra03 - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 12:26 pm:

    “That is a lot of tin foil… ”

    The city of Chicago was caught fiddling with the length of the yellow light duration in order to increase red light camera revenues.

    Real enough for you?

  16. - PE, PTOE - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 12:42 pm:

    When red light cameras first came out, I reviewed the plan and ordnance for a collar county. I was concerned that the cameras would lead to an increased risk for rear end crashes. After seeing how these are installed, there isn’t enough distance between the warning signs and stop bars to allow a safe deceleration and stop.

    As others have said, it seems as though the cameras have become a revenue source rather than a tool to improve safety.

  17. - Anonymous - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 12:44 pm:

    == Real enough for you? ==

    I’d never thought I’d have to say this on Cap Fax, but…

    The City of Chicago is not the State of Illinois. Please try and get your conspiracy theories straight, pluto.

  18. - El Duderino - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 12:47 pm:

    I really wish politicians could come outright and say that red light cameras and speed cameras primary purpose is as a revenue generator. Every time a new one goes up, the politicians scream that this is only about safety, and I have never meet anyone who is dumb enough to believe that.

  19. - Politix - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 12:51 pm:

    They’re just as useless and aggravating in the suburbs. After receiving two tickets in six months, I have vowed not to go through the intersection or to any of its nearby shops or restaurants. I know it’s my own fault, but they take advantage.

  20. - FPJ - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 12:58 pm:

    Yes, they work. The following post is about a previous Tribune article, but it looks like it applies:

    They reference a FHWA study that addressed the same issue. As they note:

    “The FHWA employed a methodology that closely resembles the Tribune’s, with one all-important difference: The feds incorporated the severity of crashes into their calculations. Both studies found that red light cameras tend to prevent right-angle crashes, while rear-end crashes increase. But since FHWA also acknowledged that right-angle crashes are more severe and impose higher costs on society than rear-end crashes, it found that even with increases in one crash type, the benefits of red light cameras outweigh the costs.”

    Here’s the original study:

  21. - paddyrollingstone - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 12:59 pm:

    There is no question that they work. Those of you (including myself) who has received a red light ticket in the past, ask yourselves: have you done it again? The answer in my case in no. Therefore as I haven’t run any red lights I have decreased the chances of someone hitting me as I go through a red light to zero.

  22. - FPJ - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 1:02 pm:

    Also, regarding the “revenue grab”/new tax line of reasoning, it is simple to avoid this new “tax”: don’t run red lights.

  23. - ChicagoVinny - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 1:06 pm:

    Red light cameras haven’t bothered me, particularly in the suburbs where the yellows are nice and long. If they increase the length of the yellows in Chicago, I’d be ok with it too.

    Speed cameras on the other hand…

  24. - A Jack - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 1:58 pm:

    Red light cameras certainly worked for John Bills until he was caught and now convicted.

  25. - El Duderino - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 3:14 pm:

    ==There is no question that they work. Those of you (including myself) who has received a red light ticket in the past, ask yourselves: have you done it again? The answer in my case in no. Therefore as I haven’t run any red lights I have decreased the chances of someone hitting me as I go through a red light to zero.===

    Maybe so, but I’ve also slammed on my brakes at a yellow, exposing myself to being rear-ended. As a previous poster mentioned, I’ve also avoided most of the red light camera intersections like the plague.

  26. - anon - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 3:25 pm:

    FJP Thanks for the links.
    Bills was caught and punished. Good. His ocrruption, however, does not invalidate the technology. It says more about the Chicago way than about automated enforcement.

  27. - Tone - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 5:42 pm:

    They work wonderfully. I have to pay less in taxes because people break the law.

  28. - Solved - Tuesday, Jan 26, 16 @ 6:43 pm:

    Pass a law that all costs for red light cameras are to be paid by the city that installs them. All revenues are directed to the state and applied only to pension debt. Cities that see red light cameras as vital to the protection of their citizens could continue to operate them. Do the opposite for the state. For any cameras operated by the state, revenues would be paid directly to the school district where they are installed, expenses continue to go the state.

  29. - logic not emotion - Wednesday, Jan 27, 16 @ 9:39 am:

    It would certainly be interesting to see if use of red light cameras would remain the same if the profit motive was removed. It would be a “put up or shut up” moment for those who claim they are just in the interest of public safety.

  30. - Anonymous - Friday, Jan 29, 16 @ 10:04 am:

    Research on red light cameras is consistent across a large number of studies:
    1. Right-angle “T-bone” crashes are reduced, where a vehicle running the red light hits the side of another vehicle (or the red-light runner is hit in the side).
    2. Rear-end crashes often increase when people stop at the red light and get hit from behind.

    Crashes of type 1 are far more dangerous, involving higher speeds and right-angle collisions where the vehicle provides less protection to passengers. The rear-end collisions are typically at lower speeds, with greater passenger protections, and fewer injuries. Of course, the cameras are of greatest benefit at certain types of intersections. But there is a great deal of evidence indicating that injuries and deaths decline overall.

    See, for example:

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