Okay, they didn’t go that far. But in a study published this month in the Florida Public Health Review, University of South Florida researchers did find that red light cameras are little more than revenue generators, and actually make intersections less safe than doing nothing at all.
"The rigorous studies clearly show red-light cameras don’t work," said lead author Barbara Langland-Orban, professor and chair of health policy and management at the USF College of Public Health.
"Instead, they increase crashes and injuries as drivers attempt to abruptly stop at camera intersections. If used in Florida, cameras could potentially create even worse outcomes due to the state’s high percent of elderly who are more likely to be injured or killed when a crash occurs."
What else they found:
• The injury rate from red-light running crashes has dropped by a third in less than a decade, indicating red-light running crashes have been continually declining in Florida without the use of cameras.
• Comprehensive studies from North Carolina, Virginia, and Ontario have all reported cameras are significantly associated with increases in crashes, as well as crashes involving injuries. The study by the Virginia Transportation Research Council also found that cameras were linked to increased crash costs.
So what about those studies frequently trotted out by legislators eager to install intersection cameras?
Some studies that conclude cameras reduced crashes or injuries contained major “research design flaws,” such as incomplete data or inadequate analyses, and were conducted by researchers with links to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The IIHS, funded by automobile insurance companies, is the leading advocate for red-light cameras. Insurers can profit from red-light cameras, since their revenues will increase when higher premiums are charged due to the crash and citation increase, the researchers say.
One of those flawed studies credited red light cameras credit for downward trends in intersection injuries that began long before red light cameras were actually installed. Others lumped continuing decreases in injuries at intersections without red light cameras with actual increases in injuries at the considerably fewer intersections with cameras. They’d then come up with conclusions such as, "our intersections are safer since we installed red light cameras," taking care to use words like "since" intsead of "because."
One particularly perverse problem the study didn’t address is the temptation among some city governments to actually shorten yellow lights at camera-monitored intersections to increase revenue, despite well-documented research showing that shortening yellows is pretty much guaranteed to cause more accidents.