Car Insurance Research Org. Takes Aim at Red Light Camera Critics

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has devoted the entire issue of its latest Status Report newsletter to getting across one point: red light cameras save lives.

The IIHS mixes in statistics with the real-life stories of seven people who were killed by red light runners in an attempt to steer the discussion away from the topics of privacy issues and money-grab allegations and “back to the real victims.”

To quantify the benefits of the cameras, the insurance research organization evaluated red light fatality statistics in 14 of the biggest cities in the United States. Researchers compared data from 1992–’96 with data from 2004–’08 and found that the total per capita rate of red light running was 35 percent lower during the later period.

In Chandler, Ariz., there was a 79 percent decrease between the two periods in the rate of fatal red light running.

Red traffic light with white backgroundThe analysis did not include cities that had cameras during the earlier period or cities that had cameras for only part of the second period.

Having the cameras in place in those 14 cities during the later period, the IIHS asserts, led to 159 lives being saved.

According to the authors, 815 deaths would have been prevented between 2004 and 2008 if all of the United States’ major cities had the cameras.

The IIHS says that the benefit of the cameras can be felt beyond the equipped intersections. That’s because photo-based red light violation systems have a spillover effect that leads drivers to be more cautious at other intersections even if no cameras are present.

But there exists a couple of hurdles to maximizing the life-saving capacity of the camera system. Chief among them are common allegations that the cameras are an invasion of privacy and a desperate attempt at getting extra revenue to fund city services.

“Somehow, the people who get tickets because they have broken the law have been cast as the victims,” said IIHS president Adrian Lund in response to the arguments against the cameras. “The cities that have the courage to use red light cameras despite the political backlash are saving lives … If they are able to recover some of their traffic enforcement costs at the same time, what’s wrong with that?”

Another fact that some opponents of the cameras may be overlooking is the effects of red light camera violations on the individual availability of cheap auto insurance prices. Although red light citations issue by police will likely show up on a driver’s record and will likely bump up premiums a bit, most jurisdictions view red light camera tickets as civil–not traffic–violations. As such, they do not show up on a person’s permanent driving record and will not affect their costs for years to come.

One story that the IIHS recounts in the newsletter goes directly against the idea of the camera systems as a money grab. In Springfield, Mo., the existence of the cameras helped cut down red light citations by 36 percent over the course of two years and eight months. Because of the safety benefits, the city kept the camera in place–despite the fact that the program had become $33,000 in the red.

About half of the states in the U.S. are authorized to use the cameras.

The full report can be found on the IIHS website.

About John Pirro
John Pirro is a licensed fire and casualty insurance agent specializing in various aspects of the auto insurance industry. He worked in the auto body repair industry before taking a reporting position at Online Auto Insurance News.

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