Red Light Cameras

This archived article is from January 2003. Although every effort has been made to make sure the information presented is accurate, please note that it may contain information that is out-of-date.

Running red lights is one of the most dangerous aggressive driving behaviours. A recently released survey found 70 percent of drivers under 40 years of age and 80 percent of those 60 and over view running red lights as a serious or extremely serious problem.

The survey suggests that in rating the seriousness of the problem, drivers assess the risk of a crash. They do not see drivers running red lights as often as they observe other aggressive behaviours such as speeding or unsafe passing. However, they feel the potential consequences are more serious. Over 60 percent of survey respondents agreed or strongly agreed with the use of red light cameras to catch drivers who run red lights.

Proven to Reduce Crashes

Studies show red light camera programs reduce crashes at intersections. However, estimates of their impact vary widely, from seven percent to 46 percent. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in the US attributes the variation to methodological problems. For example, a study of red light cameras in Oxnard, California found seven percent fewer crashes overall and 29 percent fewer injury crashes at intersections after the cameras were introduced. However, not all collisions at intersections involve red light running. When the data were re-analyzed to take into account only those crashes related to red light running, the findings showed much greater benefits — 20 percent fewer crashes and 46 percent fewer injury crashes.

After examining the methodology of previous studies, the Institute determined that red light cameras reduce injury crashes by about 25 to 30 percent.

Psychology the Key to Success

To stop motorists from running red lights, signs must be posted at all intersections where cameras may be operating. Without signs, accusations that red light cameras are simply cash machines are arguably justified.

Perception of apprehension is known to be a very effective deterrent. If people believe they will be caught, they are far less likely to offend. The objective is to prevent violations - ideally, to give no tickets. If the number of violations is high, the program is not working properly.

Australia has been using red light cameras for over 20 years. In Melbourne, for example, 35 red light cameras are rotated among 132 sites, all of which have warning signs. Motorists won't want to risk a ticket at any of those 132 sites.

Six Ontario municipalities have been piloting the cameras since 2000, and the pilot projects are being extended to 2004. The Canada Safety Council continues to express concerns that the success of these red light camera projects is compromised because the cameras are not accompanied by warning signs.