A new study by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) on the safety effects of cameras that document red-light runners concludes that crash costs to society are reduced because of reductions in side-impact crashes.
Side-impact crashes are relatively high in fatalities and injuries and result from red-light running itself. The report also finds that in some cases, rear-end crashes increase at equipped intersections as drivers struggle to stop in time to avoid being recorded and fined.
Rear-end crashes are less implicated in traffic fatalities than side-impact crashes are, research shows.
The report notes that red-light running spurs more than 100,000 crashes and about a thousand deaths per year in the U.S. The study, titled Safety Evaluation of Red-Light Cameras, FHWA-HRT-05-048, analyzed data from intersections in El Cajon, Calif., San Diego and San Francisco; Howard County, Montgomery County and Baltimore, Md.; and Charlotte, N.C.
The report, however, urges further study of the issue and notes that red-light camera systems may be most beneficial at intersections where there are relatively few rear-end crashes and many right-angle ones.
"Even though the positive effects on angle crashes of red-light camera systems is partially offset by negative effects related to increases in rear-end crashes, there is still a modest to moderate economic benefit of between $39,000 and $50,000 per treated site year" with the higher dollar value pegged to exclusion of property-damage-only crashes, the report’s authors stated.
"Even if modest, this economic benefit is important," they wrote. The benefit can be increased by carefully choosing where to put red-light cameras, with an emphasis on sites with high rates of side-impact crashes, they stated.