Cameras at traffic signals increase accidents and costs

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Washington, March 12 : Cameras at intersections and red lights significantly increase crashes and accidents, rather than improving motorist safety, according to a University of South Florida (USF) study.

The researchers also said that red light cameras are costlier, as they are a ticket to higher auto insurance premiums.

The effective remedy to red-light running uses engineering solutions to improve intersection safety, which is particularly important to Florida's elderly drivers, the researchers recommend.

The report was published this month in the Florida Public Health Review, the online journal of the college and the Florida Public Health Association.

"The rigorous studies clearly show red-light cameras don't work," said lead author Barbara Langland-Orban, professor and chair of health policy and management at the USF College of Public Health.

"Instead, they increase crashes and injuries as drivers attempt to abruptly stop at camera intersections. If used in Florida, cameras could potentially create even worse outcomes due to the state's high percent of elderly who are more likely to be injured or killed when a crash occurs."

The study was published a day after Hillsborough County commissioners voted to allow the cameras at 10 intersections.

The USF study report highlights trends in red-light running in Florida, summarizes major studies, and analyses the automobile insurance industry's financial interest in cameras.

The researchers found that traffic fatalities caused by red-light running are not increasing in Florida and comprise less than 4 percent of the state's yearly traffic deaths. In contrast, more than 22 percent of the state's traffic fatalities occur at intersections for reasons other than red-light running.

The team also found that the injury rate from red-light running crashes has dropped by a third in less than a decade, indicating red-light running crashes have been repeatedly declining in Florida without the use of cameras.

The study also cited comprehensive studies from North Carolina, Virginia, and Ontario that have all reported that cameras are significantly associated with increases in crashes, as well as crashes involving injuries. Another study by the Virginia Transportation Research Council found that cameras were linked to increased crash costs.

According to the researchers, some studies which conclude that cameras reduced crashes or injuries contained major "research design flaws," such as incomplete data or inadequate analyses, and were conducted by researchers with links to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

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, according to the researchers. 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.

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