A new report from the New Jersey Department of Transportation confirms what many opponents of red light camera ticketing systems have long suspected: cameras lead to more accidents, more injuries and greater cost.
The NJDOT report, completed as an annual requirement of the state’s five-year red light camera pilot program, contains data showing that both the total number of crashes and the total cost of crashes have increased at intersections after cameras were installed.
One of the major goals commonly stated by proponents of red light camera systems is to reduce injuries from right-angle crashes, generally the most dangerous type of collision that results from running a red light.
At the twenty-four intersections in New Jersey that have had red light camera systems operational for at least one full year, the number of right-angle crashes decreased by 15%, from 60 to 51, when comparing crash data from the year before cameras were installed to data from their first year of operation.
While that reduction in accidents may initially appear to be positive, a further examination determined that the severity of right-angle accidents increased, leading to more accidents resulting in injuries (31 vs. 21) and $444,800 in increased cost.
According to the report, the costs cited include, but are not limited to, “vehicle damage and repair, damage to property, emergency response, medical care, and even funeral costs.”
The data suggests that the most severe right-angle crashes are not prevented by the deterrent effect of a permanent camera-based ticketing system at intersections.
The deterrent effect of cameras, however, does appear to lead to a significant increase in rear-end crashes.
The number of rear-end collisions increased by 20% (286 to 343) after cameras were installed, resulting in more injuries (84 vs. 74) and $728,000 in increased cost.
It appears that many drivers unnecessarily slam on their breaks when a traffic light turns yellow to avoid a ticket if they know an intersection is monitored by a red light camera system, resulting in collisions from cars following too closely behind.
Overall, the total number of crashes at the twenty-four intersections that provided a full year of data increased from 577 to 582 (up 0.9%) with a total increased cost of nearly $1.2 million after cameras were installed.
If the goal of employing red light camera systems is to improve driver safety, the data suggests that the program has failed.
For those of us who questioned the real motivation for approving cameras for use in New Jersey, these results were not unexpected.
Red light cameras have been in use across the nation for more than twenty years. Numerous studies have questioned their effectiveness at improving safety, including many prior to the establishment of our pilot program. The National Motorists Association maintains a comprehensive compilation of nearly twenty such studies on its website.
There is a growing understanding that the most dangerous intersections are the result of poor engineering rather than malevolent drivers, further weakening the argument for deterrence through automated enforcement.
In one important demonstration, AAA Michigan led an effort to implement a number of simple and low-cost engineering solutions to make the most dangerous intersections in Detroit safer.
As part of that effort, the size of the colored lenses on traffic lights was increased by 50% to help drivers see them from further away, left turn lanes were re-striped, light timing was adjusted and all red cycles were added to traffic lights to provide extra time for cars to safely clear intersections before cross traffic is given a green light.
The results were astonishing. Although the cost of the engineering upgrades was minimal, approximately $35,000 per intersection, the number of accidents was reduced by 47 percent, with a 50 percent decrease in injuries.
Why don’t we try these simple, cost-effective solutions to make intersections safer here? The answer is simple. The local and state officials who blindly repeat the supposed, but unproven, safety benefits of red light cameras are really most motivated by the ticket revenues their cameras generate.
With a stagnant economy and increased scrutiny by residents of their tax bills, it’s an appealing option for local officials to place the burden of funding bloated government budgets on “bad” drivers, especially when cameras at a single intersection can generate tens of thousands of tickets and hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue annually.
Using drivers as a cash cow to fund wasteful government spending is wrong, which is why I have sponsored legislation, S-1952, to eliminate the use of red light cameras in New Jersey.
We would not be the first place to remove cameras once installed and would join a growing number of states that have prohibited their use.
I have launched an online petition supporting the effort to ban red light cameras in New Jersey at http://senatenj.com/cameras that has been signed more than 5,500 times. If you support this effort, I encourage you to sign and share the petition with your family and friends.
Red light cameras have failed at their supposed goal of making dangerous New Jersey intersections safer. They should be eliminated immediately.
Senator Doherty represents parts of Warren, Hunterdon and Somerset counties in the New Jersey Senate.