Are Red Light Cameras the Answer?
The automobile’s invention revolutionized the American transportation system. It allowed people to move themselves and cargo from city-to-city and state-to-state in a much faster and efficient manner. Its numbers increased as it gained popularity and became affordable. This led to the development of road networks both within and between cities. Problems arose in the areas where roads intersected each other; accidents occurred at these intersections due to the lack in control of vehicular movements. Cities employed people to direct traffic at busy intersections to address this issue, but eventually the intersections became too numerous to control using this method. The development of automated traffic control devices attempted to solve this problem. Initially, these consisted of an alternating sign system that simply read stop and proceed. This system soon evolved into the method utilized today with red, amber, and green lights. However, this system could not force vehicles to stop when the light turned red and intersections still required monitoring by the police to enforce traffic regulations.
The use of police to monitor intersections poses its own problems. First, there are not enough officers in urban areas to monitor every intersection on a regular basis. Second, if police officers have to remain at problematic intersections to observe traffic, they are not maintaining a patrol presence within their assigned areas. Third, officers are only capable of stopping one vehicle at a time after a violation occurs. These issues spurred the development of the traffic enforcement camera system; also called red light cameras (RLC).
RLCs monitor intersections as a means of enforcing traffic laws without needing to place a uniformed officer at the scene to issue citations. This system allows cities to observe intersections constantly, permits the police to maintain a roving presence, and is able to capture images of each motorist that speeds through the intersection or enters during a red light. They are effective at reducing angular collisions and deterring drivers from entering intersections after a light change. However, this method of traffic enforcement is not without its drawbacks. Intersection monitoring with RLCs is not acceptable because they increase rear end collisions, suffer legal uncertainties, and effective alternative methods are available.
Red light running is a serious issue in the United States. According to T. Walden and B. Bochner (2011), it is estimated these violations result in over 100,000 accidents and 1,000 fatalities each year. The economic impact is assessed to be over $14 billion dollars annually (“Effectiveness of Red Light Cameras-Texas Statewide Evaluation,” p. 30). Typical costs include items such as property damage, medical expenses, response expenditures, etc. The monetary costs are significant, but the loss of life is incalculable. N. Elminity and...