Red-Light Cameras Increase Accidents, USF Study Says
RICH SHOPES, The Tampa TribuneTAMPA - Cameras at intersections increase, not decrease, accidents, according to a University of South Florida study published the day after Hillsborough County commissioners voted to allow the cameras at 10 intersections.
Published: March 12, 2008
Published: March 12, 2008
The university's yearlong review, published Friday in the campus journal Florida Public Health Review, warns that drivers are at higher risk of having accidents at intersections where cameras are installed.
"People see a yellow light and normally they would drive through it, but at camera intersections they do the quick stop. They slam on the brakes and that means everybody else behind them slams on the brakes," said Barbara Langland-Orban, one of three co-authors of the study and an associate professor in USF's Department of Health Policy and Management.
USF examined five red-light camera studies. It concluded that two were flawed and found that the other three drew the same basic conclusion about cameras at intersections.
"Overall, they have been found to increase crashes and injuries," Langland-Orban said.
She pointed to a seven-year study by the Virginia Transportation Research Council that showed crashes at intersections with the cameras increased 29 percent.
Another study, by the Urban Transit Institute at North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University, looked at almost five years' worth of data. The study concluded that accident rates increased 40 percent at intersections with cameras; injury crashes rose between 40 percent and 50 percent.
The USF review contradicts other studies showing a decline in wrecks, including a report by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety that is frequently cited by camera advocates.
USF's study came out only a day after commissioners voted Thursday to allow the sheriff's office to negotiate with a company to install cameras at 10 intersections.
The study's release was a quirk of timing and had nothing to do with the county commissioners, Langland-Orban said. "We've been working on this for a year."
Commission chairman Ken Hagan said he would have liked to have seen the USF review before Thursday's vote, although he wasn't sure that would have changed the outcome.
"There's a reason hundreds of jurisdictions across the country ... are installing these cameras," he said. "This ordinance is strongly supported by the sheriff's office, and the evidence that we've looked at, essentially from various cities, showed a drastic decline in collisions and fatalities."
Col. Greg Brown, head of the sheriff's patrol division, said studies he has examined showed a decline in serious collisions, even though others contradict those findings. He had not seen the USF study but added that he had not seen any studies that showed an increase in "right-angle collisions," which tend to inflict the most serious injuries.
"We're going ahead with the program," he said.
Sheriff's deputies will monitor the cameras, and Hagan said that the ordinance could be amended or rescinded if the cameras appeared to cause more accidents than they prevented.
Under the ordinance, which commissioners passed unanimously, a company will install and operate the cameras, which photograph cars as they go through red lights.
Tickets will be mailed to the owner of the vehicle, who can appeal the $125 fine in court. The violations are civil infractions and don't add points to a driver's record.
The USF study shows that despite what backers of the cameras say, red-light running is not a growing problem in Florida.
Traffic fatalities from red-light running are not increasing. They averaged 110 per year between 1998 and 2006, accounting for less than 4 percent of Florida's annual traffic fatalities. Injuries from red-light running crashes have steadily decreased during that same period.
Instead of using cameras to catch red-light runners, the study suggests that engineers look at the timing of yellow lights and make sure the signals are visible to motorists.
That will do more to curb accidents than the cameras, which can cause drivers to speed up or slam on the brakes, said Langland-Orban.
"We're focused on healthy people and healthy communities, and we think there needs to be some awareness about the downside of these cameras," she said.
Reporter Rich Shopes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 259-7633.