Skip to main content

IIHS: majority of drivers favor red light cameras

A recent study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports two thirds of drivers in cities where red light cameras have been used for a significant length of time support their use. According to their findings, intersection cameras have reduced the number of fatal crashes caused by drivers running red lights by 24 percent in these cities. Opponents of red light cameras, while vocal and sometimes influential, are in the minority.
Posted: June 30, 2011 - 7:26PM
Author: Don Bain

"Most drivers don't buy the argument that it's somehow wrong to enforce the law just because you're using a camera to do it," says Anne McCartt, the Institute's senior vice president for research. "They understand that this technology is preventing crashes in their cities."

An Institute study released earlier this year proved red light cameras save lives. U.S. cities with populations over 200,000 were compared relative to red light camera deployment. Fourteen cities with cameras during the period from 2004 to 2008 were contrasted crash results to the preceding years before the cameras were in place. In these cities automated red light enforcement saved 159 lives over an equal period of time. If cameras had been in all large U.S. cities during those years, a total of 815 deaths could have been avoided.

The Institute also gauged drivers' experience with and perceptions of the cameras. Over 3,000 people in the 14 cities were interviewed by phone between Feb. 19 and March 29. Another 300 people were surveyed in Houston specifically because of its recent vote to ban the cameras. The city installed cameras in 2006, which was too late to be included in the crash study group.

Over 90 percent of drivers in the 14 cities believe running a red light is unacceptable, and over 80 percent consider it a grievous threat to personal safety. Two-thirds favor red light cameras while 42 percent are strongly in favor of them.

Among the 89 percent aware of the camera programs in their cities, most believe the devices have helped make safer intersections. Almost half know someone who has gotten a ticket and 17 percent have personally received one – most think it was deserved.

Previous surveys also have found support for the cameras widespread, but opponents continue to claim the programs violate privacy and are created merely to generate revenue. Voters in 8 cities have rejected camera programs in ballot initiatives during the past 3 years.

In Houston, where 53 percent of voters cast ballots against red light cameras last November, the voters don't seem to represent the community. Fifty-seven percent of drivers there favor cameras with 45 percent strongly favoring them. The opposition, however, is stern, with 28 percent saying they strongly oppose cameras compared to 18 percent in the other cities.

In the 14 cities surveyed, just over a quarter of respondents oppose cameras. Asked why, 26 percent said cameras could make mistakes. The contention that cameras are about money, not safety, was mentioned by 26 percent. Nineteen percent somehow think they make roads less safe, causing more crashes, while another 17 percent argued that they're an invasion of privacy.

Less support was evident to crack down on right-on-red violations than the intersection cameras. Such violations include making a right on red where it is not permitted and making the turn without stopping. Cities differ as to whether they issue tickets for rolling right-on-red turns when they are caught on camera. Nearly a fifth of drivers say they support cameras but oppose right-on-red enforcement. Forty-one percent of drivers support using cameras for these violations.

"Right-on-red violations usually aren't associated with T-bone crashes, but they make intersections much more dangerous for pedestrians in particular," McCartt says. "The survey results show cities need to do a better job explaining this issue to drivers."

The overall survey has a margin of error of about 2 percentage points. The Houston survey has a margin of error of 6 percentage points.

There are few more dangerous things a driver can do than running a red light. Ignoring stops kills people as the statistics above illustrate. However you feel about red light cameras, we hope you will adhere to traffic signals. Consider the others on the road, not to mention the ones who will miss you if you don’t make it home safely.