Human nature being what it is we weren’t surprised to hear some of the latest findings from a recent study conducted by a Florida television news station regarding the use and effects of so-called “red-light” cameras. Since Maryland’s metro areas have their fair share of these devices, it was interesting to read about the latest look into the psychology of drivers when confronted with this kind of passive traffic enforcement.
Now, it goes without saying that any approach to reducing traffic accidents, and by association related fatalities and severe, sometimes life-altering personal injuries, would be met with at least some acceptance. Red-light cameras are supposed to accomplish their job, in part, by being “advertised” by local law enforcement agencies.
Being injury attorneys based in the Baltimore area and serving residents of Maryland and Washington, D.C., we can appreciate the efforts of safety advocates to encourage increased adherence to traffic laws. According to a report from a TV station in Florida, very few drivers will admit to liking these red-light cameras. But since more than 150,000 men, women and children are hurt annually as a result of another driver running or otherwise ignoring a red traffic signal, there is certainly some merit to these traffic control devices.
Based on the study from the Sunshine State, critics of red-light cameras support the notion that any reduction in accidents is only offset by a similar increase in rear-end collisions caused by motorists who may slam on the brakes to avoid a citation. This argument could be sound, but it also assumes that the number of scofflaws who tend to run red lights equal or outnumber those motorists who driver defensively and allow proper following distances.
Based on the study, which included traffic statistics from five different cities, the rear-ending argument was essentially dismissed as not valid. Researchers also determined that red-light cameras actually do promote a reduction in roadway intersection collisions. There was no mention of whether the accidents reduced involved car, truck, motorcycle crashes or a combination of all of these; we can assume that it was a decent snapshot of that state’s vehicular traffic.
In pure numbers, the study found that rear-end collisions were reduced by more than 50 percent. What’s more encouraging is that side impact wrecks, which represent some of the more fatal car and trucking-related accidents, were cut by even more as a result of red-light camera installations.
Naturally, the general understanding is that motorists are more apt to brake for a yellow light, rather than accelerate in an attempt to “beat” the red, thus avoiding a potential ticket for not stopping for a red light.
Similarly, a number of more scientific studies have indicated that these conclusions are valid. Back in 2005, one federally-funded study showed that read-light cameras help decrease right-angle (or T-bone) crashes by up to 25 percent; although the same research turned up a 15-percent increase in rear-end crashes.
However, another related study found that there wasn’t a statistically significant change in rear-end injury crashes following the installation of red-light cameras. Researchers in that particular study noted that there appeared to be a 13 to 29 percent reduction in all kinds of injury accidents, as well as nearly a 25 percent reduction in right-angle accidents.
Florida TV Station Busts Red-Light Camera Myths, MSN.com, May 7, 2012
Red Light, Speed Cameras Remain Controversial Even as Numbers Grow, SoMd.com, December 15, 2011