Intersections with red light cameras ‘likely to be among most dangerous,’ study says

Red light cameras are used at the intersection of Division Street and Cooper Street in Arlington on Thursday, May 7, 2015. (Star-Telegram/Khampha Bouaphanh)
Red light cameras are used at the intersection of Division Street and Cooper Street in Arlington on Thursday, May 7, 2015. (Star-Telegram/Khampha Bouaphanh) Star-Telegram

Red light cameras don’t cut down on accidents or make intersections safer, a new study shows.

True, fewer motorists may blow through red lights, cutting down on T-bone type accidents. But the trade-off is that there are more rear-end collisions as drivers slam on their brakes to avoid going into the intersection and are hit by vehicles from behind.

“We find that the cameras changed the (angle) of accidents, but (there is) no evidence of a reduction in total accidents or injuries,” according to a recent report by researchers at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio who reviewed Texas traffic data.

Red light cameras, used in nearly two dozen states, are a hot button issue in Texas, where communities such as Arlington have successfully worked to turn the cameras off.

A similar effort in Fort Worth died earlier this year when organizers of the effort couldn’t get enough signatures to put the issue on the ballot in November.

Critics of the cameras, who believe they violate the U.S. Constitution, say they hope the Texas Legislature next year will ban the cameras that generate millions of dollars each year for Texas and its cities.

Supporters say these cameras make streets safer and generate needed revenue for cities across the state.

Cameras are set so vehicles entering intersections after the light has turned red — and those that don’t stop long enough before making a right turn on a red light — are photographed. Vehicles entering the intersection on yellow that are still in the intersection when the light turns red are not photographed, according to the Texas Department of Transportation.

After each offense, a $75 ticket is automatically sent to the car’s owner.

The study shows

Researchers in this study began reviewing crash data in 2015, focusing on 12 years of accident data, primarily from the cities of Dallas, Houston and San Antonio.

The review showed that red light cameras actually cause traffic patterns to change.

“Some drivers who typically ran a red light before a camera program will choose to stop at the intersection and, in turn, fewer vehicles will be in the intersection when the cross-road light turns green,” according to the study led by Justin Gallagher, an economics professor as Case Western Reserve University. “At the same time, electronic monitoring is likely to increase other types of accidents.”

Because of that, researchers note that “intersections with cameras are likely to be among the most dangerous intersections.”

In Houston, the cameras caused “non-angle” accidents, such as rear-end collisions, to go up 18 percent. And in Dallas and Houston combined, the cameras caused a 28 percent increase in those accidents, the study shows.

When the red light cameras were removed in Houston, there were about 26 fewer injury accidents per year at those intersections.

“Drivers may simply miscalculate,” the report stated. “The decision to stop or continue is a split-second decision. For example, knowledge of the cameras ... could lead some drivers’ first impulse (to) be to stop even when it would be safer to continue through the intersection.”

To pay or not to pay?

Red light camera critics note that not everyone pays the tickets they receive.

Red light camera tickets are civil violations, unlike speeding, which is criminal. That means they don’t show up on driving records or impact insurance rates. And these unpaid tickets can’t be reported to a credit bureau, so credit ratings aren’t impacted.

Tarrant County Tax Assessor-Collector Ron Wright has said anyone who has an account that is flagged may go to any of the eight local tax assessor-collector offices. There, they will be allowed to renew their registration no matter how many unpaid red-light tickets they have.

Anna Tinsley: 817-390-7610, @annatinsley

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