Switching Off Red Light Cameras Likely Cost Lives, IIHS Says

Cities that nixed cameras saw a 30% increase in fatal red-light-running crashes.

ByABC News
July 28, 2016, 12:58 AM

— -- The sudden flash of a red light camera in the rear-view mirror can certainly put a damper on a driver's day. But those pesky cameras might have saved lives, a non-profit says.

Cities that switched off their red light cameras between 2010 and 2014 saw a 30 percent increase in the number of fatal red-light-running crashes, a new Insurance Institute for Highway Safety study says. Meanwhile, cities that turned cameras on saw 21 percent fewer fatal red-light-running crashes than they would have otherwise, the study says.

Red light cams affect other types of dangerous driving behavior, too: Cities that terminated their camera programs saw a 16 percent increase in all types of fatal intersection crashes, and cities that debuted camera programs saw a 14 percent decrease.

Following criticism that cities' red light camera programs were more focused on making money than saving lives, many cities switched off their cameras. In fact, at least 158 communities have discontinued their programs in the last five years, and though other cities have activated cameras, the total number of cities with red light cameras has fallen from 533 in 2012 to 467 in 2015.

Red-light-running crashes led to 709 deaths and 126,000 injuries in 2014 alone -- and over half of those deaths were innocent bystanders: pedestrians, bicyclists, or occupants of vehicles struck by the red light runner, according to IIHS. But the organization says based on its research, red light cams have saved nearly 1,300 lives through 2014 -- while cities' cessation of red light camera programs has cost an estimated 63 lives, the organization says.

“Debates over automated enforcement often center on the hassle of getting a ticket and paying a fine,” IIHS President Adrian Lund said in a statement. “It’s important to remember that there are hundreds of people walking around who wouldn’t be here if not for red light cameras. Sadly, there are 63 families who are missing a loved one because these life-saving programs were canceled.”