Study Dismantles Top Argument in Favor of Red-Light Cameras

Dec 22, 2014 10:39 AM EST | Jordan Ecarma

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Chicago's much-touted red-light camera program may not be everything city officials have made it out to be.

According to a new study commissioned by the Chicago Tribune, red-light cameras don't reduce overall injuries related to crashes, while right-angle collisions that cause injury are reduced by only 15 percent--far less than the 47 percent reduction claimed by City Hall.

Besides failing to mitigate injury to the extent touted by officials, cameras increased rear-end crashes resulting in injury by 22 percent, the Tribune said.

"The biggest takeaway is that overall (the program) seems to have had little effect," said lead researcher Dominique Lord, an associate professor at Texas A&M University's Zachry Department of Civil Engineering, as quoted by the Tribune.

"So the question now is: If we eliminate a certain type of collision and increase the other and overall it stays the same, is there an argument that it is fair to go with the program?" Lord asked. "That is a question that I cannot answer. Just the elected officials can answer for that."

The largest in the country, the Chicago camera program comprises more than 350 red-light cameras. The Tribune study was the first to analyze the program, which has brought in more than $500 million in $100 tickets since 2002.

The city's red-light camera system has been plagued by "mismanagement, malfunction and a $2 million bribery scandal," the Tribune reported. A former traffic system consultant pleaded guilty last week to funneling as much as $2 million in bribes to former City Hall manager John Bills. The men allegedly earned $1,500 every time a new red-light camera was installed in Chicago.

Traffic stop cameras and their effectiveness in minimizing injury continue to be areas of debate.

New Jersey recently shut down red-light camera pilot programs in around two dozen municipalities. Launching in 2009, the pilot program allowed New Jersey towns of all sizes to bring in millions of dollars, with some busy intersections distributing more than 20,000 citations in a year.

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