Road safety organizations release new guidelines for red-light enforcement programs

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Against a background of a recent rise in intersection crashes across the USA, four national safety organizations want to encourage cities and localities to use automated enforcement systems and have developed a red-light camera checklist for local policymakers, law enforcement agencies and transportation officials.

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) analysis shows that more than 800 people died in crashes involving red-light running in 2016, an increase of 17% since 2012. The increase comes as fewer communities in the USA are using red-light cameras to enforce the law and reduce crashes.

Released by the AAA, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, the IIHS and the National Safety Council (NSC), the checklist provides practical instructions for planning, implementing and evaluating red-light camera programs, including steps to help communities build and maintain public support.

Red-light running is one of the most common factors in urban crashes. More than half the people killed in red-light-running crashes are pedestrians, bicyclists and people in other vehicles hit by the red-light runners.

As of July 2018, 421 communities had red-light camera programs, down from 533 that had a program at any time during 2012. Although new camera programs continue to be added, the total number of camera programs declined, because more programs were discontinued than were initiated. Commonly cited reasons for turning off cameras include a reduction in camera citations, difficulty sustaining the financial viability of the program, and community opposition.

As the number of programs has declined, deaths in red-light-running crashes increased from 696 in 2012 to 811 in 2016, the most recent year available. Fewer red-light camera programs are not the sole reason for the increase. Many factors, especially the economic recovery, are likely to be playing a significant role. IIHS research in 2016 showed that shutting camera programs increases fatal crash rates.

The study compared trends in annual crash rates in 14 cities that ended camera programs during 2010-14 with trends in crash rates in 29 regionally matched cities that continued their camera programs. The fatal red-light-running crash rate was 30% higher in cities that turned off cameras than it would have been if the cameras remained on. The rate of all fatal crashes at signalized intersections was 16% higher.

The red-light camera checklist includes recommendations for planning, oversight and sustained public engagement. Surveys consistently show that the public supports red-light camera enforcement, but support can erode when programs are poorly run, or perceived to be centered on generating revenue rather than on preventing crashes.

Programs that focus on safety and transparency are successful. First steps include careful assessment of intersections where red-light running is a problem. Communities need to ensure that steps are taken to evaluate road design and signal timing. Adequate yellow light phases, for example, have been shown to reduce red-light running and crashes.

“We developed the guidelines to help communities avoid the problems that have undermined programs in the past,” said IIHS president David Harkey. “We know turning off cameras results in more crashes, injuries and deaths, so it’s important that camera programs succeed.”

Deborah A P Hersman, president and CEO of the NSC, added, “Intersections are some of the most dangerous places on our roadways. Automated enforcement technology saves lives, and this checklist helps put communities on a road to zero deaths.”

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About Author

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Tom has edited Traffic Technology International magazine and the Traffic Technology Today website since he joined the company in May 2014. Prior to this he worked on some of the UK's leading consumer magazine titles including Men's Health and Glamour, beginning his career in journalism in 1997 after graduating with a law degree from the London School of Economics (LSE).

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