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Study Says Red-Light Cameras’ Benefits Outweigh Abuse Potential

“A red light camera is not a panacea for traffic problems; it is a very effective tool for safe and efficient transportation.”

The safety benefits of red-light cameras outweigh the potential for their abuse as revenue generators, says a University of Missouri (MU) report on those cameras.

Carlos Sun, an associate professor of civil engineering at MU, says the safety benefits of automated traffic monitoring systems far outweigh the potential for abuse. “A red light camera is not a panacea for traffic problems; it is a very effective tool for safe and efficient transportation,” Sun said.

“Just like any other tool, it should be used responsibly in the proper situation. The decision to use automated traffic enforcement tools requires a balancing act, but we shouldn’t take away an effective tool just because of the potential for abuse.”

Sun cited National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistics that indicate almost a third of all traffic fatalities are speed related, and that running red lights accounts for 883 fatalities and 165,000 injuries each year. Sun’s review of automated speed enforcement studies from around the world found the cameras to be effective at improving safety overall, and that the presence of cameras in a community created a “spillover effect,” in which motorists showed a greater adherence to red lights even where no cameras were present.

However, Sun said there is a lack of coordination of automated traffic enforcement laws throughout the legal system. Therefore, state legislators need to create laws regarding operation, privacy and jurisdiction of those systems, he said. In addition, vendor contracts in which a third party installs and operates red-light cameras, could create mistrust among citizens, he said. Nonetheless, despite the potential for cameras to “generate revenue,” the checks and balances among traffic engineers, traffic enforcement, city administration, legislators and citizens should ultimately keep abuse in check, he said.