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Chelsea Gilbert
Chelsea Gilbert
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Preliminary Report Brings up Questions over Effectiveness of Red-light Cameras

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A year ago the city of Seattle installed six cameras at four busy intersections. The cameras were part of a $460,000 pilot program and intended to decrease collisions, drivers running red lights and drivers failing to stop before turning right on red. Since the installation of the cameras last June, the city has made over $900,000 in revenue from the 14,000 citations ($101 each) that have been issued.

A preliminary report that tracked the camera’s statistics through the end of May 2007 was recently released. The report found that the cameras have failed to produce any reduction in the number or frequency of car accidents. However, the severity of the accidents and the amount of resulting injuries appears to have decreased since the cameras installation.

Drivers’ running red lights has been reduced by about one-third over the 10-month duration of the project, but this reduction has not been uniform. Violations decreased when the cameras were initially put into place, and increased during 2007.

Despite the mixed results, Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske was quoted in a July 19, 2007 Seattle Times article as saying, “So far, everything that we’ve looked at, from reducing the amount of injury, to the level of injury, has been successful.”

For the most part the public, the city and the major media outlets (such as The Seattle Times and the Seattle PI) are supportive of the red-light camera program.

In fact, the city is proposing plans to increase the presence of red-light cameras, placing them at an additional 12 to 18 Seattle intersections. This increase would boost the city’s revenue from the cameras to over $5 million a year.

Aaron Quinn, with the National Motorists Association, said, “In most cases, the cameras are more for revenue than improving safety.”

However, city analyst Mike Quinn counters this sentiment. In May of 2006, before the cameras were installed, he said “[The red-light camera program] is designed 100 percent as a traffic safety initiative.”

Aaron Quinn suggests that there are other, more effective, ways to reduce drivers running red lights and the accidents caused by them. For example, by extending the duration of yellow lights by 1.5 seconds. A study has shown that this change decreased violations by 96 percent.

Read the full Evaluation Report for the Traffic Camera Safety Program here: http://www.thenewspaper.com/rlc/docs/2007/seattlereport.pdf

For more information on this subject matter, please review our section on Car and Motorcycle Accidents.