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Thursday, Apr 24, 2014
Commentary

Red-light safety camera report: Turn the focus on lives saved


Published:

This week’s report from the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability shared great news that red-light safety cameras in Florida have dramatically reduced fatal and injury collisions. Frankly, I’m surprised and disappointed that such an important fact was buried so deeply in the report.

The simple fact of the matter is that red-light running kills, permanently affecting families and communities. Florida’s red-light safety cameras are a critical tool to reversing this deadly behavior, saving lives every day and improving driver behavior — as seen in this report and others.

Red-light running is an epidemic in Florida and throughout the United States — one that has fatal consequences. It is the leading cause of urban collisions, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. In 2009, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that more than 8,700 people were killed in intersection or intersection-related crashes.

In addition, more than two-thirds of the victims of collisions at signalized intersections are pedestrians, bicyclists and other drivers — someone other than the careless driver who chose to speed through a red light.

My husband, Mark Wandall, was killed by a motorist who sped through a red light. Due to this reckless decision on the road, my husband was taken from me when I was nine months pregnant, and my daughter has never known her father. My daughter and I will forever feel Mark’s absence in our lives. His friends will no longer benefit from his kindness or his advice, his presence or his help. And all of these losses only begin to capture the emotional impact.

Red-light safety cameras have had a profound impact on road safety in Florida. Most importantly, they have saved lives, helping to ensure that others need not share in my pain. The OPPAGA report has found that fatal collisions have decreased by 49 percent in 12 counties with red-light safety cameras, resulting in an estimated 18 lives saved since cameras were installed. In addition, 68 fewer injury crashes occurred after red-light safety cameras were installed. Although OPPAGA glossed over these statistics and instead focused on more sensationalized anti-camera views, saving 18 lives means the world to the 18 families who would have otherwise lost a loved one forever.

A separate analysis released in December by the National Center for Statistics and Analysis, an office of NHTSA, shows red-light running fatalities decreased 27 percent in Florida, from 83 fatalities in 2011 to 61 in 2012, outpacing the nation’s 5 percent decrease. Another 22 lives were saved thanks to the presence of red-light safety cameras. Although this information is overshadowed in the report, it is an important indicator that Florida’s camera programs are achieving their most critical purpose — saving lives.

I wish these cameras had been around in 2003. Maybe the driver who struck Mark would have thought twice about barreling through a red light. Maybe my husband would still be alive today.

Equally important to saving lives is improving driver behavior. In the three years since the Mark Wandall Traffic Safety Act became law, the average number of citations issued per camera per month statewide has decreased by 40 percent. This means fewer people are running red lights in Florida. Just two months ago, the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles found that 95 percent of vehicles issued a red-light running violation in 2013 did not receive a second citation. Thanks to red-light safety cameras, drivers are making smarter choices and, as a result, Florida roads are safer for all who use them.

There are plenty of petty arguments against red-light safety cameras, but none of them matter when you compare them to the lives (and families) the cameras have saved. Florida state and local government have 18 irrefutable reasons to continue using this incredible technology at the state’s intersections. As someone who has suffered the real and human consequences of another person’s decision to run a red light, I can say with certainty that 18-plus lives saved is the only statistic that matters. Simply put, the cameras are working, and we can’t afford to remove them.

Quite literally, our lives depend on them.

Melissa Wandall is president of the National Coalition for Safer Roads.

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