The Chicago Tribune recently reported that car accident statistics are showing an increase in vehicle collisions at intersections that contain red light cameras.
There were 28 Car accidents and truck accidents at Western Avenue and 63rd Street in 2006, the year before the Daley administration installed red-light cameras there in the name of safety. In 2008, the year after cameras went in, accidents at the Southwest Side intersection soared to 42, according to state data.
Car Crash totals for the year before and the year after the cameras arrived shows 18 intersections recorded a significant drop in accidents with cameras. Twenty intersections had a significant increase in car accidents, while nine had relatively little change.
Based on state statistics, nearly 60 percent of intersection with red light cameras did not decrease the amount of car accidents in that area.
The safety benefits of red-light cameras are indisputable when placed at truly dangerous intersections, said Timothy Neuman, chief highway engineer for CH2M Hill, one of the nation’s largest engineering consulting firms. But Neuman acknowledged that drivers have grown skeptical because cameras in many communities seem to be proliferating at marginal locations.
“The trick is where you put them,” Neumann explained. “It frustrates traffic engineers like myself if and when it’s misused.”
Indeed state data shows that car accidents have fallen, sometimes dramatically, at some dangerous city intersections after the installation of cameras. In 2006 there were 141 car accidents at South Chicago Avenue and Stony Island Drive, a very complicated South Side intersection. Cameras were installed in mid-2007 and car accidents that year dropped to 123. By 2008 the total fell again to 101.
More typical, though, is the situation at Western and North avenues, where cameras were installed in late 2007. In 2006 the year before the camera went in, the intersection was the scene of 34 accidents. In 2008, the year after installation, there were 40 accidents, including six broadside collisions – considered the most dangerous type of intersection crash. There were no broadside crashes at that intersection in 2006.
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I think this article and the supporting statistics raise some interesting questions about the effectiveness of red light cameras. I have received numerous phone calls from clients who have been ticketed with red light violations. Unfortunately, these tickets cannot be amended or dismissed as they are not viewed as moving violations. The jury is still out as to whether the cameras are actually decreasing car accidents.
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