Better engineering needed, not camera enforcement


July 10, 2006

The National Motorists Association has followed the research and debate concerning the use of red-light cameras for several years. The majority of independent research (i.e. research that was not funded by ticket-camera vendors or units of government interested in justifying camera-based traffic enforcement) has resulted in the conclusion that red-light violations are primarily the result of poorly-designed, poorly-maintained, or improperly-operated traffic lights.

Enforcement is not an option that will work. Across the country, accidents are not decreasing at camera intersections. At best, the number stays static. At worst, accidents (especially rear-end collisions) can increase by as much as 107 percent.

The reality is that red-light violations are primarily caused by engineering problems. A dangerous intersection can only be made safer through the use of proven engineering solutions. For example, if an east/west facing light is virtually invisible at certain times of the day due to glare from the sun, will a camera make the light clearer? Not in the least. However, metal plates installed behind the signal combined with larger and brighter lights would.

A recent study by the Texas Transportation Institute highlighted the efficacy of increasing yellow-light times and other engineering countermeasures. The study proved that increasing the yellow-light time by one second resulted in a 40-percent decrease in collisions. It concluded that red-light cameras should be used only after all engineering options have been explored and evaluated.

However, these engineering options are being ignored in favor of cameras. Engineering takes effort and money. Cameras are easily installed and camera vendors pay for the cost of installation. Once the first ticket is issued, both the city and camera manufacturers make a profit at the expense of your safety.

The choice is clear. Municipalities can either spend money on engineering solutions or collect ticket revenue while accidents increase. Unfortunately, many communities have chosen the latter.

ERIC SKRUM is the communications director for the National Motorists Association.