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Government Transportation

Red Light Cameras Raise Crash Risk, Cost 499

concealment writes with news of dissatisfaction with a pilot program for stoplight-monitoring cameras. The program ran for several years in New Jersey, and according to a new report, the number of car crashes actually increased while the cameras were present. "[The program] appears to be changing drivers’ behavior, state officials said Monday, noting an overall decline in traffic citations and right-angle crashes. The Department of Transportation also said, however, that rear-end crashes have risen by 20 percent and total crashes are up by 0.9 percent at intersections where cameras have operated for at least a year. The agency recommended the program stay in place, calling for 'continued data collection and monitoring' of camera-monitored intersections. The department’s report drew immediate criticism from Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon, R-Monmouth, who wants the cameras removed. He called the program 'a dismal failure,' saying DOT statistics show the net costs of accidents had climbed by more than $1 million at intersections with cameras." Other cities are considering dumping the monitoring tech as well, citing similar cost and efficacy issues.
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Red Light Cameras Raise Crash Risk, Cost

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  • Cost vs injury (Score:5, Insightful)

    by EdZ ( 755139 ) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @08:37PM (#42111491)
    Hard to tell without access to the raw figures, but if the number of T-bone crashes has reduced, replaced by more rear-end incidents, is it possible that the injury rate, or at least number of serous injuries or fatalities, has decreased? Even if the net cost in car damage increases, that would still be a win in my books.
  • Re:Honestly... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by qeveren ( 318805 ) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @08:41PM (#42111569)

    What honest excuse do you have for running a red light? It isn't like you don't get plenty of warning that the thing is going to change.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @08:42PM (#42111585)

    Maybe people should actually obey the Orange light (which at least in my country is 'Stop if able to') rather than treating it like the best time to put the foot on the gas.. Maybe once people do that they won't be screeching to a halt causing rear ends because they didn't intend to stop until the noticed the camera watching. Poor driving behavior is probably the primary cause of the increase, the cameras just force the issue to surface.

  • by fiannaFailMan ( 702447 ) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @08:48PM (#42111661) Journal


    They also improve traffic flow and eliminate the need for 4-lanes in each direction to store stopped idling cars.

  • by leon.gandalf ( 752828 ) <> on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @08:49PM (#42111665)
    the real problem is people are just too fucking stupid to know that you stop if safe to do so for a yellow light. You do not stomp on the gas.
  • Re:Cost vs injury (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Jah-Wren Ryel ( 80510 ) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @08:49PM (#42111669)

    is it possible that the injury rate, or at least number of serous injuries or fatalities, has decreased?

    I'm as anti-traffic-camera as they come, but I have to agree that this is prime territory for "lies, damned lies and statistics." How do we know that the increase in accidents wasn't due to some other factor and the cameras actually mitigated it? What happened in the bordering towns that didn't deploy cameras? Where there any other changes, like increased number of drivers on the road, etc?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @09:01PM (#42111791)

    the real problem is people are just too fucking stupid to know that you stop if safe to do so for a yellow light. You do not stomp on the gas.

    Yes, it is always the people who are stupid, not the fucking engineering. Perhaps people stomp on the gas because the yellow duration has been shorted and they wouldn't stop in time? And perhaps the timing for a safe stop distance is based on a far slower speed than people actually drive?

    If your core design assumption is that people are fucking stupid and need to be punished so that they will stay in line with the system that is implemented, then you are a shitty fucking engineer. Roads are a tool tool to transport people, not your science project on social obedience.

  • Re:Cost vs injury (Score:3, Insightful)

    by interkin3tic ( 1469267 ) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @09:05PM (#42111847)
    Same issue with cities shortening yellow lights: you get increased T-bone collisions. But naturally cities are loath to lengthen the lights, because that reduces their income. At least in this case, safety aligns with what cities are going to do anyway.
  • by ionix5891 ( 1228718 ) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @09:07PM (#42111865)

    Oh god no! In ireland all we have are fucking roundabouts, and are now being replaced by traffic junctions and traffic flows much better at rush hour

  • by alen ( 225700 ) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @09:09PM (#42111885)

    Maybe people need to learn to gently stop and not on a dime like a race car driver?

  • Re:Honestly... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by raydobbs ( 99133 ) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @09:16PM (#42111935) Homepage Journal

    Let me see - sliding on black ice at the intersection - even though you have your foot on the brake peddle, and it to the firewall - you go sliding through the intersection, triggering the camera? Ambulance behind you flips their lights on just as you approach a yellow light - but for whatever reason, their lights don't trigger the override? You prepare to slow down to a stop, but the person behind you appears out of control - and there is no cross-traffic, so you run the light to prevent a collision?

    Those were just the few I could think of in a few second, but sure - mod my ass down.

  • Re:Cost vs injury (Score:5, Insightful)

    by IndustrialComplex ( 975015 ) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @09:21PM (#42111983)

    T-bone crashes aren't the type of crashes prevented by red-light cameras to any significant degree.

    A T-bone crash can only occur a few seconds into the light when the other lane of traffic has already begun to pass through the intersection. No driver WANTs to run a true red-light. Those times you see someone blow through a red-light that wasn't just someone squeaking through or missing a yellow? Those mid-red light runners completely missed that there was a redlight there at all! They didn't run the red-light because they wanted to, they ran the red-light because they weren't paying attention.

    So what effect does a red-light camera have on people who aren't paying enough attention to see that there is a red-light there in the first place? Well, as we can see by these numbers, not much of an effect at all.

    I'd be willing to be that there are fewer T-bone style crashes, because of an increased number of people stopped at the intersection, providing something else for the inattentive driver to see (or as the numbers suggest, rear-end)

  • Re:Cost vs injury (Score:5, Insightful)

    by artor3 ( 1344997 ) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @09:27PM (#42112031)

    According to this article [], which references the same study, the cameras actually seem to make things much better.

    On the two intersections where the cameras have been in place the longest, t-bone accidents are down 86%!! And this isn't a revenue stream either, as the number of tickets issued, while spiking initially, drops off substantially as drivers get used to the cameras.

    Of course, the article submitter wanted a good ole fashioned anti-government hate-fest, and was happy to massage the numbers accordingly. Lies, damned lies, and statistics, indeed.

  • by Spy Handler ( 822350 ) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @09:36PM (#42112127) Homepage Journal

    1. It's not exploitation if the homeless/unemployed person does this voluntarily for a wage (aka a job).

    They wouldn't be in harm's way if they're positioned somewhere sensible where cars don't travel, such as a sidewalk.

    2. Drivers get into accidents for all kinds of stupid reasons. Cops sometimes appear at busy intersections, as well as hookers, protesters, news cameramen, fruit vendors, etc. I don't see any outrage to ban these.

    3. Little girls in cars, oh my... won't someone please think of the CHILDREN!

  • Re:Cost vs injury (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dgatwood ( 11270 ) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @09:48PM (#42112277) Homepage Journal

    For those folks who don't want to take the time to read the article, briefly put, the number of T-bone crashes decreased, but the average severity of those crashes increased, presumably because of people racing to try to get through the light so that they wouldn't get ticketed, failing to do so, and thus being at an unsafe speed at the time of collision.

    Thus, even the costs associated with T-bone crashes increased, and although this study did not break down the cost into medical and non-medical costs, one can reasonably assume that although the injury rate decreased because the total number of accidents decreased, the severity of injuries was probably greater, resulting in increased medical costs. That's just not a very good trade.

    Red light cameras do not merely encourage positive behavior. They equally encourage both positive behavior and far more reckless behavior, and on average, make things worse according to nearly every metric. Increasing yellow light times (by starting the yellow cycle a second earlier) make things better by nearly every metric. Why don't we do this? Greed. Write your legislators and demand a ban on red light cameras and a return to more reasonable yellow light times.

  • Re:Cost vs injury (Score:5, Insightful)

    by hduff ( 570443 ) <> on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @09:53PM (#42112313) Homepage Journal

    So what effect does a red-light camera have ...

    It increases government revenue by ticketing mostly people who make rolling-right turns on red, a practice that does not result in traffic fatalities for the most part.

  • Re:Honestly... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by dgatwood ( 11270 ) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @09:55PM (#42112343) Homepage Journal

    The problem you've got in New Jersey is not red light cameras. It's poorly trained, inconsiderate and selfish drivers.

    Don't forget pissed off drivers. When you've just hit the last eight lights in a row red, most people find themselves a lot more motivated to try to make it through one, because doing so means that they'll probably make it through the following one or two lights on green. There's only so much that most people can handle, and once people cross that threshold, their driving becomes markedly worse. Unfortunately, our nation's traffic light management sucks harder than a Hoover, so this is a much more common problem than it should rightfully be in any sane universe.

  • Re:Cost vs injury (Score:5, Insightful)

    by icebike ( 68054 ) * on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @09:56PM (#42112349)

    Is it still a win in your books when the cities shorten the yellow to generate more tickets?

    You've probably hit on the principal reason for the mixed results. The systems were designed to serve one purpose, but the money was just too good to pass up. The system was perverted to serve a different purpose.

    People are so worried about entering an intersection on red that they are causing rear-end accidents by sudden stopping when the safest thing to do is just to roll across the intersection. Most intersections have an all-ways-red interval to handle the guy who enters on what he thought would be a late yellow, but actually was red due to a shortened yellow.

    If cameras were not allowed to trigger until the crossing lane's lights were GREEN, and there were statutory yellow durations and statutory all-ways-red durations, it would eliminate all this yellow shortening nonsense, and maybe the cameras would catch the scoff-laws they were intended to catch.

  • Re:Cost vs injury (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dahamma ( 304068 ) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @10:15PM (#42112515)

    Actually, it's damn lies in the slashdot summary, too. From TFA:

    "The DOT’s report noted that two intersections in Newark have been part of the camera program for two years, and that 24 others in six communities have been recording violations for at least one year. At the Newark sites, the report said, crashes in the latest year were down by 57 percent from the “pre-camera year,” with decreases of 86 percent for right-angle collisions and 42 percent for same-direction crashes.

    It said the number of citations issued at the Newark intersections fell by 85 percent over the two-year period. “

    So, crashes are up a total of 0.9% in a year, but the intersections that have had cameras for 2 years are *way* down, as are citations. So, it's also very possible (though still a hypothesis) that it takes a year or so for locals to get used to the concept of cameras, at which point they really start proving their worth.

    And even in the "new" cameras, an increase of only 0.9% means while there was a slight increase overall, it's practically a given that a collision from behind because someone couldn't stop fast enough in reaction to hard braking is going to be less dangerous that T-boning someone trying to beat the light...

  • Re:Cost vs injury (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dasunt ( 249686 ) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @11:10PM (#42112913)

    No, what is needed are not cameras. What is needed are some combination of:

    One thing you missed: Better traffic lights.

    Traffic lights do contribute to delays of traffic flow. They slow down traffic, and the contribute to useless delays, as anyone who has sat at a long red light, waiting for cross traffic that doesn't exist.

    I'd argue that any large country (I'm looking at you, US) has an incentive to improve traffic light. Right now, the most common intelligent traffic light has ground loops to detect when cars are at the intersection. In this day and age, couldn't we do better?

    Imagine a traffic light that could "see" traffic approaching from a distance. It could also see traffic backed up to the light. Instead of turning red when a car or two is approaching and the cross traffic is non-existent, it could remain green. Instead of turning green when traffic is backed up to the light, it could let other traffic, which is clear to continue, go.

    Just imagine the time and fuel savings!

    And finally, I'd have to say, in this day and age, sometimes intelligence is overrated (even though this negates the above). As a young adult, the traffic lights in my town sensibly shifted to blinking yellow and red at late hours when the traffic was light. The most common through traffic would get blinking yellows. The underused cross streets would get a blinking red. Then, years later, they replaced the traffic lights with a more modern type that would detect when a car was waiting and change the light. This was useless in a small town - approaching from a cross street would result in a longer delay (as the other light would go through a yellow/red change), and if you were on the main street when a car had to cross, you'd have to wait for the red/green change for just one vehicle.

    Really, considering how much time Americans spend on the road, and how much time is lost, small improvements result in a big gain in time not lost and gas not burned.

  • Re:Cost vs injury (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Concerned Onlooker ( 473481 ) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @11:24PM (#42113011) Homepage Journal

    "People are so worried about entering an intersection on red that they are causing rear-end accidents by sudden stopping..."

    That's a basic misunderstanding of safety. The people tailgating are the ones causing the accidents.

  • Re:Why not (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MickLinux ( 579158 ) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @11:33PM (#42113075) Journal

    Actually, I prefer web cams placed all along the roads, each reachable from a city website. line the roads with stripes, so speed can be digitally measured, and keep the last day of footage for public review.

    Then, when someone gets cut off, or sees reckless driving, they can post a pointer to the police. Police either confirm or deny claim -- as well as any OTHER infractions they see in the incident. Appropriate citations get mailed out [fine to license only, no points]. Citizen who pointed out the incident first gets 10%. Citizens whose claim is denied cannot register another claim for a week, by automatic lockout.

    Now, the unemployed can freelance in traffic patrols, and the wealthy who flaunt the law can fund them. The poor who flaunt the law can stop driving. The reckless can learn a cheaper way to drive.

    I think it'd be a win-win situation .

  • Re:Cost vs injury (Score:4, Insightful)

    by anagama ( 611277 ) <> on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @12:33AM (#42113529) Homepage

    That's the issue right there: revenue.

    I live in a border county with Canada. They've started installing signs about a hundred yards ... well, meters ... in front of stoplights on major streets. The signs have two yellow flashing lights that flash and a message that says "be prepared to stop when flashing" -- in other words, the warning sign starts flashing and by the time you reach the intersection, the stop light has gone red even though way back when you noticed the warning sign, the stop light still showed green. So you know that even if the stop light is green, if the warning sign is flashing, it'll be red by the time you get there so slowing down is a good idea.

    I suppose it will be some time before we know if the warning signs cause people to gun it for the intersection, or if it works as intended. I hope it is the latter because it is 1) unintrusive (no data collection), 2) directly aimed at the issue rather than a backdoor means for private profit at public expense, and 3) pretty darn simple (pole, board, paint, light bulb, timer).

  • Re:Cost vs injury (Score:4, Insightful)

    by thegarbz ( 1787294 ) on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @04:31AM (#42114587)

    And yet the person behind didn't leave enough space. I suppose it's still the person in front's fault if a kid runs out on to the street?

    I'm not sure where you live but here the person behind is ALWAYS at fault if he rear-ends a car. Driving down the road, nothing to be seen, step on the break as hard as possible putting faith of god in my ABS system and the guy behind me hits me? He's at fault. Guy behind doesn't have ABS and I do? He's at fault. Snow on the road? He's at fault.

    The fundamental reason behind this is that the guy behind was not leaving enough room to react to a very sudden change in the conditions ahead, aka tailgating. Also tailgating doesn't mean you're riding the guy's bumper, no it means different things at different speeds. In Germany at 100km/h if you're within 50km of the car in front you're tailgating. (Speed in km/h)/2 = (distance in m) in space you need between the car in front of you.

    Not that it matters because if you weren't tailgating and you still manage to hit the car in front you're likely asleep at the wheel and guess what, still your fault.

    People should be following for the worst case, not thinking about which intersection is safe.

"Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there." -- Will Rogers