Editorial | Candid study on cameras

Editorial | Candid study on cameras

Red-light cameras reduce vehicle safety.

City officials in Chicago argue vehemently that they installed hundreds of red-light cameras there to promote public safety, not general new revenues.

That argument always has invited skepticism for a variety of reasons.

For starters, according to investigative reports by the Chicago media, the cameras were located in areas where traffic was high but motorist safety was not a serious issue. Then city officials were caught rigging the cameras to give motorists less time to comply and ensure that more of these revenue-generating tickets were issued. Finally, the Chicago media reported their conclusion that the presence of the cameras was just as likely to cause accidents as to prevent them.

The sham nature of the red-lightcamera program was revealed when the city of Chicago agreed to a $38 million settlement of a class-action lawsuit challenging the efficacy of the program.

Despite that settlement, the red-light-camera program remains in place, generating millions of dollars in revenue from motorists who, for the most part, find it impossible to defend themselves if they are issued a ticket. Let's just say the court that hears their cases is more interested in moving cases along with guilty findings than listening to protesting motorists complain that they were wrongfully issued a ticket.

All that is pretty good evidence that the red-light-camera program should never be expanded beyond what it already is in Illinois.

But now there's even more reason to do away with this automatic plague on the driving public.

A study conducted by Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland has concluded that red-light cameras do not reduce accidents or increase safety.

"We believe the cameras encourage people to take steps, including slamming on the (brakes), to avoid tickets, even when there is a significant risk of an accident by doing so. The effect appears to be larger than any benefits from reduced accidents by red-light running," said university researcher Paul Fisher.

Red-light cameras take pictures of vehicles that enter an intersection during a red light. Violators are notified of the violation when they receive an order to pay a fine in the mail.

Under a strict-liability framework, vehicle owners are held accountable for violations. That approach has drawn objections from American Civil Liberties Union representatives who claim that the automatic fault finding denies those who are issued tickets due process of law.

The university study said that it determined the presence of red-light cameras led to a significant increase in rear-end collisions. In two cities — Houston and Dallas — rear-end collisions jumped by 28 percent.

When the cameras were removed, the number of T-bone-style collisions increased, but not by enough to make up for the drop in rear-end crashes.

So what is the public to make of all this?

The obvious conclusion is that the red-light cameras are working as intended — they generate many thousands, even millions, of dollars in municipalities where they are in place — but not as public officials promised — reductions in accidents and increased public safety.

The Case Western Reserve study ought to be one more nail in the coffin of red-light cameras. But they'll continue to be a viable option as long as public officials see them as another easy way to get into a taxpayer's wallet.

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