Editor's Note: The following letter to the editor was written by Mike Doherty. Doherty represents the 23rd Legislative District in the New Jersey Senate.
A new report from the state 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 report contains data showing that both the total number and total cost of crashes have increased at intersections after cameras were installed.
The commonly stated goal of red light cameras is to reduce injuries from right-angle crashes, generally the most dangerous type of collision that results from running a red light.
At the 24 intersections in New Jersey that have had cameras operational for at least one full year, the number of right-angle crashes decreased by 15 percent, 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 may initially appear to be positive, a closer examination shows that the severity of right-angle accidents increased, leading to more accidents resulting in injuries (31 versus 21) and $444,800 in increased cost.
The data suggests that the most severe right-angle crashes are not prevented by the deterrent effect of cameras at intersections.
The deterrent effect of cameras, however, does appear to lead to a significant increase in rear-end crashes.
Rear-end collisions increased by 20 percent (286 to 343) after cameras were installed, resulting in more injuries (84 versus 74) and $728,000 in increased cost.
It appears that many drivers unnecessarily slam on their breaks at yellow lights to avoid a ticket if they know a red light camera is present, resulting in more collisions from cars following too closely behind.
Overall, the total number of crashes at the 24 intersections increased from 577 to 582, 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 many of us, these results were not unexpected.
Red light cameras have been in use across the nation for more than twenty years. During that time, numerous studies have questioned their effectiveness at improving safety.
There is growing evidence 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 implemented 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 colored lenses on traffic lights was increased by 50% to make them more visible, turn lanes were re-striped, light timing was adjusted and all red cycles were added 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 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 here? The answer is simple. The officials who blindly repeat the supposed, but unproven, safety benefits of red light cameras are most motivated by the revenues cameras generate.
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 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.
I have also launched an online petition, signed nearly 6,000 times already, in support of this legislation. The petition can be signed at http://senatenj.com/cameras.
We would not be the first to remove cameras already installed and would join a growing number of states that have prohibited their use.
Red light cameras have failed at their supposed goal of making dangerous New Jersey intersections safer. They should be eliminated immediately.
State Senator, 23rd Legislative District