Red light cameraA new study released on Thursday by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) finds that red-light safety camera programs reduce the number of vehicles that run red lights at intersections, and thus help prevent auto accidents, according to a press release. The study was conducted in Arlington County, Virginia, where IIHS is based, as Ashley Halsey III reports for The Washington Post.

Halsey writes:

If you are destined to die in a car crash around here, the odds are almost one in four that you’ll get killed at an intersection, but your chance of avoiding a crash is improving if you live in Arlington County.

Four red light cameras installed at Arlington intersections have proven to save lives, Halsey writes. IIHS researchers began working with the county back in 2010 when they heard Arlington would be installing the cameras. The researchers used cameras to track the red light cameras, Halsey writes, recording those intersections first for an initial 30-day period when drivers were given warnings only. IIHS then recorded the intersections for a second month once drivers were given tickets for infractions, and finally for a third 30 days a year later to see if red light running had decreased.

IIHS compared those tape recordings to ones it made of four Arlington intersections that did not have red light cameras, Halsey writes. The researchers broke the results into three categories, Halsey writes:

… [R]unning a slightly red light (less than 0.5 seconds after the light changed to red), running a red light (1 second after) and running a very red light (one that had been red for at least 1.5 seconds). Running a very red light is far more dangerous because there’s a good chance that another car may have entered the intersection by then.

The study found that a year after red-light running drivers at the camera-equipped intersections began receiving tickets, running “slightly red” lights was reduced by 39%, running red lights was down by 48%, and running “very” red lights had dropped by 86%, Halsey writes.

Anne McCartt, who wrote the institute’s report, says in the press release:

What these numbers show is that those violations most likely to lead to a crash are reduced the most. Automated enforcement can get drivers to modify their behavior.

The IIHS statement says that there are now about 540 U.S. communities using red light cameras, because many studies have shown that the devices improve auto safety. For example, IIHS notes that its 2011 study of large cities with long-standing red light cameras found that the equipment reduced fatal red-light running crashes by 24%, and the rate of all types of fatal crashes at intersections that have traffic signals by 17%.

You can see a map of Denver, Colorado-area red light cameras here:

Associated Press (AP) reported recently in an article appearing in The Denver Post that Republicans in the state Senate introduced a bill that would prohibit municipalities from using red light cameras. But, the article notes, a similar bill that was introduced last year did not succeed. The Colorado Municipal League is opposed to the bill, saying local municipalities should make their own decisions, AP writes. You can see the recently proposed bill here:

Image by Jonas Bengtsson.

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