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The idea behind the red light camera isn’t a new one. As a matter of fact, the first red light ticketing camera was installed in New York City all the way back in 1993, a full 18 years before the first one was installed in my neck of the woods. Since the first one went in, 24 states have adopted similar systems, citing their effectiveness in reducing the number of accidents that occur at exceptionally busy intersections. So, do they? Reduce the number of accidents?

The answer is a bit complicated. It takes a lot of research, reading, interpretation and postulating to come to a real conclusion. The good news for us is that Jonathan Ramsey, special correspondent for AOL Autos has done the legwork for us. He’s reviewed 10 studies, both for and against the argument at hand and here is what he’s found:

  • Red light cameras are effective in reducing the number of T-bone or broadside accidents that occur at the intersection where they are installed. This is really good news since this is the worst type of accident to be involved in, according to the IIHS. Not all of the studies agreed on just how much, but a greater portion of the studies agreed that overall, there was a reduction in this type of accident.
  • Red light cameras are minimally effective in reducing other types of accidents including cross traffic accidents and right turn on red accidents. But the evidence isn’t incredibly overwhelming in these instances either.
  • Red light cameras are universally responsible for increasing the instance of rear end collisions at intersections where they are installed. Yes, you read it right. You are more likely to be involved in a rear end collision when stopping at an intersection with a red light camera installed. As a matter of fact, the Federal Highway Administration conducted a very thorough study of this situation and noted that rear end collisions rose nearly 15% at intersections where these cameras were installed.

So, do red light cameras really reduce accidents and potential injuries? The jury is still out. Yes, most studies will say that the more severe accidents are reduced, the overall number of accidents remains much the same with the increase in other types of collisions. From the Virginia study (as quoted by Jonathon Ramsey): “These results cannot be used to justify the widespread installation of cameras because they are not universally effective. These results also cannot be used to justify the abolition of cameras, as they have had a positive impact at some intersections and in some jurisdictions. The report recommends, therefore, that the decision to install a red light camera be made on an intersection-by-intersection basis. In addition, it is recommended that a carefully controlled experiment be conducted to examine further the impact of red light programs on safety and to determine how an increase in rear-end crashes can be avoided at specific intersections.

So, why do cities continue to use them?

The short answer is because the one thing that all red light cameras do is generate revenue. As long as these cameras continue to make money, you can bet your bottom dollar that they will remain. One key item that was noted by studies that back the red light camera opposition was the length of the yellow light cycle. Studies have shown that by increasing the length of the yellow light duration and installing a delay in the cross traffic’s signal to green you can reduce the same number of accidents as the red light cameras, without the benefit of the additional income.

Andrew Miller is an avid legal blogger and manager of over 20 attorney blogs. This article was written on behalf of Paul J. Tafelski.