LIKE many states, Pennsylvania has authorized the use of automated camera systems at intersections to record and fine drivers who don't stop for red lights.
A major new study of red-light camera use in Texas, however, indicates that the camera systems are better at generating fine revenue than they are at reducing accident numbers or improving public safety.
Economists Justin Gallagher and Paul J. Fisher examined every reported traffic crash in three large Texas cities over 12 years, several hundred thousand incidents. They found "no evidence that red-light cameras improve public safety. They don't reduce the total number of vehicle accidents, the total number of individuals injured in accidents or the total number of incapacitating injuries that involve ambulance transport to a hospital."
That substantiates the argument that red-light camera critics have made in Pennsylvania – that intersection safety isn't improved by red-light cameras. They contend that the best way to improve intersection safety is through better road design and, especially, through longer times for the yellow light between green and red lights.
The study authors said the cameras do not improve safety even while reducing the number of red-light violations. In Virginia, they noted, an earlier study found that cameras reduced the total number of red-light incursions by 67 percent. But the Texas authors found that the reduced red-light running has a "contradictory effect" on safety. Many drivers who normally would go through an intersection on a yellow light slam on their brakes at camera-equipped intersections, they said, often resulting in rear-end collisions.
Their report focused primarily on 66 camera-equipped intersections in Houston. They were able to compare data for a period when cameras were in place, and after they were removed due to a referendum in which Houston voters banished them.
Some types of crashes in the intersections increased after the cameras were removed whereas other types decreased.
"This suggests," Gallagher wrote, "that the program's drawbacks canceled out its benefits."
Given the Texas results, the Pennsylvania Legislature should commission a study to determine if red-light cameras improve public safety or just improve revenue collection, and they should adjust the law accordingly.
—Wilkes-Barre Citizens' Voice