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Los Angeles Red Light Cameras Lead To Increased Accidents

Posted on November 10th, 2009 in | 25 Comments

Los Angeles Red Light Cameras Lead To Increased Accidents
Thanks to an excellent piece of investigative journalism by David Goldstein of Los Angeles television station KCAL, motorists are getting the real accident numbers at Los Angeles camera-enforced intersections.

The city has claimed that the cameras reduced accidents by 34%, but a little fact-checking proved this assertion wrong:

Is it money or safety? We wanted to know actual numbers of accidents at red light camera intersections to see if they really went down.

When we asked, the LAPD became very defensive. The sergeant in charge told me in an e-mail, “The city would hope that it is the goal of KCBS/KCAL to discuss the positive aspects of the photo red light program.”

So we filed a public records request. The department charged us more than $500 for a computer run. When we got the numbers back, they told a different story.

We looked at every accident at every red light camera intersection for six months of data before the cameras were installed and six months after.

The final figures? Twenty of the 32 intersections show accidents up after the cameras were installed! Three remained the same and only nine intersections showed accidents decreasing.

Charging extravagant prices for information requests is a common tactic by cities with ticket camera programs who are trying to hide unfavorable results (one city recently took it one step further and just stopped keeping track once they figured out that accidents were increasing.)

KCAL’s investigation found that several ticket camera intersections in Los Angeles had as many as three times the number of accidents:

At Manchester Avenue and Figueroa Street, accidents more than tripled from five before the cameras were installed to 16 afterwards. Westwood Boulevard and Wilshire Boulevard tripled from three to nine. At Rodeo Road and La Brea Avenue, collisions nearly tripled from seven in the six months before the cameras were installed to 20 in the same period afterwards.

So why did accidents increase at camera-enforced accidents?

“People see the light flash and they slam on their brakes,” [local attorney Sherman] Ellison said. “That’s just human nature. As a result, more accidents, more rear end accidents.”

That’s what happened to Dale Stephens, who knew the yellow light up ahead had a camera.

“Because I had that in the back of my mind I knew I had to stop. And it’s so expensive to get a ticket I knew I had to stop. Well they had no inclination to stop,” Stephens said.

“They” are the two cars that hit him from behind.

David Goldstein: “Do you think the red light camera caused the accident?”

Dale Stephens:
“Yes, definitely.”

He’s not alone. Study after study show that red-light cameras can actually cause accidents and some cities are taking notice.

Montclaire, Upland, El Monte and Fullerton all discontinued red-light cameras in part because of accidents. Huntington Beach broke its contract before it even officially began.

“There are quite a few studies out there that will show an increase in rear end accidents in these intersections,” a spokesperson from the Huntington Beach Police said.

Thanks to this investigation, at least one city councilman is considering re-evaluating the red light camera program:

[Los Angeles] Councilman [Dennis] Zine says all accidents should be evaluated. He had been told accidents were down due to the cameras and didn’t know the LAPD was excluding many collisions until I told him.

“If that’s the case, we need to re-evaluate this program if in fact we are having more collisions,” Councilman Zine said.

He says he will take the issue to the City Council because the contract for the cameras is up soon. And if they conclude, as we did, that accidents are up, the red light cameras may soon be coming down.

Thankfully, shutting down ticket camera programs is becoming quite a trend these days.


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25 Responses to “Los Angeles Red Light Cameras Lead To Increased Accidents”

  1. [...] were installed! Three remained the same and only nine intersections showed accidents decreasing. Los Angeles Red Light Cameras Lead To Increased Accidents Looks like the commission came to the same conclusion; "The Los Angeles Police Commission [...]

  2. [...] Los Angeles Red Light Cameras Lead To Increased Accidents A local TV station fact-checked the city’s claims that their ticket cameras reduced accidents and found that the opposite was true. At 20 of the 32 intersections studied, accidents increased and several intersections tripled their accident rate. [...]

  3. John G says:

    Good idea. Wait until the government has already fouled it up and then complain about it. That never got a country in trouble before.

    An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

  4. [...] THE ARTICLE: Los Angeles Red Light Cameras Lead To Increased Accidents [...]

  5. Hubcap says:

    Seems like there is at least one class-action lawsuit here just waiting to cost the red-light camera companies a boatload of cash.

  6. John G says:

    Red light cameras do not help because they are a reactionary and not a proactive measure. They do nothing to prevent someone from running a red light and only react after the incident and potential damage has taken place. The whole premise of red light cameras is based on the idea that there is a significant portion of the driving population that purposely runs red lights. This is nonsense. Most people run red lights because they are not paying attention (playing with radio, day dreaming, tired, etc.), are drunk, or are a fugitive from justice. Red light cameras do absolutely nothing to help these situations. Perhaps a proactive technology invention from the private market that might actually help prevent red light running BEFORE IT HAPPENS would be a GPS system linked to traffic light data that could aurally warn the driver if he/she is approaching a red light too quickly. But that wouldn’t make any money for the government and insurance companies and might actually save lives.

    • Randy says:

      John G I guess you have never seen anyone actually speed up when they see a yellow light and still enter an intersection when it is red? I guess you live in another world. I guess these people that you never see do not care if they get tickets either and would continually keep getting them and do not alter their behavior. I also guess that after getting a couple hundred dollar ticket at an intersection that people would continue to not pay attention?

      Every statistic that I have ever seen says that red light tickets actually go down significantly after a few weeks they are up. That says either people drive another route or they are making people pay attention or as you would say stop running from the police so they do not run the red light.

    • John G says:

      Who cares how many tickets are issued? All that matters is how many accidents are occurring. Statistics seems to show that it is better to have the negative side effect of people speeding up to make a yellow light, than the negative side effect of people slamming on their brakes in fear of a red light camera. That may not be the most just and fair outcome that we would want in a perfect world, nevertheless it is the reality we live in. Putting up cameras without proper research because it sounds like a good idea is reckless.

    • Randy says:

      Ok John G you say an accident is like any other accident. I guess in football you say a field goal is as good as a touchdown because that both put points on the board.

    • John G says:

      ScienceDaily (Mar. 12, 2008) — Rather than improving motorist safety, red-light cameras significantly increase crashes and are a ticket to higher auto insurance premiums, researchers at the University of South Florida College of Public Health conclude. The effective remedy to red-light running uses engineering solutions to improve intersection safety, which is particularly important to Florida’s elderly drivers, the researchers recommend.
      “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.”

      Red-light cameras photograph violators who are then sent tickets in the mail. Hillsborough County Commissioners unanimously agreed earlier this month to install the cameras at several major intersections in the county. The devices could be adopted by more cities and counties if Florida legislators pave the way by changing a state law this spring.

      The USF report highlights trends in red-light running in Florida, summarizes major studies, and analyzes the automobile insurance industry’s financial interest in cameras. Among the findings:

      * Traffic fatalities caused by red-light running are not increasing in Florida and account for less than 4 percent of the state’s yearly traffic deaths. In contrast, more than 22 percent of the state’s traffic fatalities occur at intersections for reasons other than red-light running.
      * 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.
      * 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.

      Langland-Orban said the findings have been known for some time. She cites a 2001 paper by the Office of the Majority Leader, U.S. House of Representatives, reporting that red-light cameras are “a hidden tax levied on motorists.” The report concluded cameras are associated with increased crashes, the timings at yellow lights are often set too short to increase tickets for red-light running, and most research concluding cameras are effective was conducted by one researcher from the IIHS. Since then, studies independent of the automobile insurance industry continue to find cameras are associated with large increases in crashes.

      Red-light running can be reduced by engineering improvements that address factors such as signal visibility and timings, wet roads and traffic flow, the USF researchers say.

      The researchers suggest local governments follow the state’s lead in designing roads and improving intersections to accommodate elderly drivers, which would ultimately benefit all drivers.

      The report ” Red-Light Running Cameras: Would Crashes, Injuries and Automobile Insurance Rates Increase If They Are Used in Florida?” was published in March 2008 in the Florida Public Health Review, the online journal of the college and the Florida Public Health Association. Etienne Pracht, PhD, and John Large, PhD, were the other authors of the USF public policy report.

      http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/03/080311151159.htm

      Red light cameras are supposed to be a means to an end (safety). They are not achieving and may even be hurting that end. Some people unfortunately have become so obsessed with the means, they think the means is the end.

    • Randy says:

      Ok John G, why would the “Insurance Institute for Highway Safety” be biased if the most if not all red light tickets do not get reported to insurance companies? Insurance companies have more data and more capital to investigate the truth than any other group and you say they do not count. You say that there are reports that say red light cameras make intersections less safe and there are dozens of reports that show they increase safety. You report that only 4% of deaths are caused by red light runners. If you can prevent even as little as 1/4 of those deaths by actually doing something then it would save what? Maybe 300 deaths a year. That is a conservative estimate. Would you be willing to tell those 300 families that we could have done something but your family member just did not mean anything to us?

    • John G says:

      Ok John G, why would the “Insurance Institute for Highway Safety” be biased if the most if not all red light tickets do not get reported to insurance companies?

      Red light violations in some states do put points on your license and that trend is only going to increase. There is no way states will continue to allow red light violations to be issued with out assessing points once cameras become accepted as the norm. They just want to get the cameras up and in place first so they are mainstream and people accept them. Insurance companies can check your points anytime they want and raise rates if they want to as a result of points. MORE POINTS = MORE MONEY regardless of accident history.

      I’m not sure what it is but I think it’s a mixture of arrogance and naiveté. Are you really that arrogant/naive to think the IIHS gives a damn about you? It is nothing more than a conglomerate of insurance companies, wholly funded by insurance companies. Do you think the primary goal of insurance companies is to care about your safety? They could care less if you were run over tomorrow. You are insignificant to them. They only way they would care is if they could use your death to make themselves more money. They are in the business to make money, and that’s fine. That’s what a business does. But you don’t let businesses start dictating public policy. That’s called corporate fascism.

      You are obviously charmed by red light cameras to the point you don’t care about the evidence. The most objective, unbiased assessment you could make at this point is that we are not sure what impact they have on safety because of mixed reports, but there are a significant amount of independent studies that show they may have no positive net safety impact and may even have a net negative safety impact. Therefore, it is not prudent and potentially unsafe to install red light cameras because more research needs to be done to ensure they are having a positive effect, and more importantly do not actually make intersections less safe.

      From a pilot’s perspective, if someone told me they were going to install a new safety device on my plane, and said “supposedly this device will make this plane safer, but a significant amount of research from respectable, independent sources suggests it might actually make your plane less safe.” I would never let the device be installed. Not to mention if it were installed, the potential liability that would result from knowingly installing a device whose effects on safety effects were not certain.

      Why are you obsessed with installing an unproven, questionable device. There is something wrong with you. You are not analyzing the situation from an objective posture. Maybe you have an emotional vendetta against red light runners or something.

      “Would you be willing to tell those 300 families that we could have done something but your family member just did not mean anything to us?”

      Once again, the argument has always been about what would make the intersection more or less safe. Research suggests that red light cameras do not have a significant impact on the type of red light running that is killing/injuring people, yet increases other types of accident which can lead to an overall net decrease in safety. I’d be willing to tell that to anyone.

    • Randy says:

      John G leave and come back when the world ends and then you can laugh at us. You always say what if the government changes the way they do things to make it worse. Why not wait and complain after the fact rather than giving us dozens of what if things that could be bad for us.

      Where are there any statistics that there are more deaths at intersection with cameras and are caused by cameras? Distracted drivers with cell phones do not count.

  7. marcus says:

    Of course more red light cameras translate to more accidents- as a people we are always trying to get away with bending the rules and breaking laws.
    Rob a bank, get caught, land yourself in jail. What’s wrong with this? The problem is that we want to get “what we deserve” without being good members of our community. After all- haven’t we all been short changed?
    Well, red lights are there for a reason and its up to us to be diligent and stop our vehicles on time. We should be ready and willing to help the enforcers of the laws of our society.

    • Randy says:

      It is pretty easy to understand why accidents could go up at red light cameras. Get rid of the people that ride the bumper of the vehicle in front of them and there would be none at red light cameras. Some countries teach not to tailgate and also ticket people that do. Only two reasons that a tailgate accident can occur at an intersection. Distracted drivers and people driving too close for conditions which can include speeding up when they see a yellow light. Even if accidents go up at a few intersections that is not a significant problem when the accidents are far less serious. People can learn not to follow too close with a few close calls or a ticket.

      NMA says that speed cameras are removed after a period of time because the accident rate is too high. I would bet that it is because after a few months there are very few violations because people do learn from their mistakes and the cameras are no longer needed and too costly to keep in place.

    • George [C] says:

      Law enforcement is done by juries (and sometimes judges)
      Look up jury nullification.

      The police are law upholding officers.
      The local municipalities & police have no authority to delegate their authority/responsibility to a third party.

      Your ‘rob a bank’ analogy isn’t valid. Banks deposits are ‘insured’ by the FDIC, and when they run out of money, the will go to the [un]federal [no]reserve who will monetize as much as needed.
      anyway, the banks are supposed to have security guards, and/or armed tellers/bankers.

      Yes, stopping for red lights shows that you respect your own time.
      But the biggest problem is miss-timed lights. Why are they miss-timed? underposted speed limits, so that the police, aka revenue agents, can generate as much money as possible.

      Fix the speed limits
      Fix the intersections
      Fix the synchronization of multiple lights.

      No problem, reaction, solution scenario.

    • James says:

      As a people we don’t understand how your thesis relates to red light cameras, and how they cause more accidents.

    • Randy says:

      George name one set of street lights that are miss timed. That is very easy for you and others to say all someone has to do is spend a couple of dollars to fix something. Timing lights is very easy when all the traffic is traveling the same direction but when traffic flows both directions along with timing the lights in all 4 directions is not that easy and often impossible. Even with a very powerful computer it is not possible to time lights in 4 directions unless you very the distance between lights which is almost impossible or change the speed limits between lights which it would kill you if you had to drive 5 or 10 mph slower.

      Your idea of fixing the speed limits is traveling 70 mph on the city streets. I guess it is impossible for you to travel 40 mph or even 30 mph for a mile or two.

      Fix the interesections. What is that allowing a free for all at 45 mph.

      Since you have all the answers what are they to fix the problems as you see them. Pretty easy for someone like you to say all they need to do is fix it and not giving a clue how it is to be done.

    • Randall says:

      Randy, in a perfect world no one would tailgate. I suppose there are things the country or states can do prevent tailgating but in this country that would be hard to do. You know how many people I see driving to close to the vehicle in front of them? i would say around 75% of the drivers at least in my area follow too close to the car in front of them. That a lot of attitudes and drivers that you have to change. Would take years to fix maybe a generation of drivers even.

    • George [C] says:

      To reduce rear end collisions, all vehicles should have positive LED brake light.
      Most vehicles only have one positive brake light, the CHMSL. (and not all of them are LED based)
      Volvo is a big supporter of positive brake lights, because they know how the human visual system works.

      Randy, a reason for rear end collisions is that people are erring on the side of not getting a ticket at illegal red light cameras. So some people are nailing the brakes, upon the green-yellow transition, regardless if they would have made it cleanly through the intersection. So, the people behind this person, who themselves would have made it through the intersection legally [entering on yellow, exiting on red], now collide with these people.

      Do these people have something to fear? Probably, because there have been multiple instances of yellow light duration being shortened to increase profit.
      I spoke with my mother, and she saw a police officer sitting on the far side of a redlight camera intersection with his radar gun.
      If you speed up to avoid the short yellow, and the illegal redlight camera, the ’5-0′ is there to get you.
      So the only recourse is to brake early, brake often.
      and unfortunately some vehicle can not stop worth a dime, thanks to their tires.
      http://www.caranddriver.com/var/ezflow_site/storage/original/application/06671a7978bd3610966f3d68fc9d2dc0.pdf
      Only 0.76g from 70-0, pretty bad.

      James, problem-reaction-solution is the layman’s name for thesis-antithesis-synthesis
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hegelian_dialectic#Hegelian_dialectic
      The ‘city’ created the problem of incorrect/underposted speed limits, which lead to incorrect yellow light duration, and no mutual red time [thesis], accidents ensue and the public is in an uproar-”do something” [antithesis], then the great idea of redlight cameras to fix the problem, which they caused, is proffered as the remedy. [synthesis]

      Randy, read the other sections of motorists.org
      http://www.motorists.org/other/home/signal-retiming-article/
      http://www.motorists.org/photoenforce/home/alternatives-to-red-light-cameras/
      http://www.motorists.org/photoenforce/home/10000-ticket-camera-challenge/
      http://www.shortyellowlights.com/

    • Randy says:

      George I do not have time to look at your dozen links right now but if someone stops anywhere on a road or street and you hit them in the rear end in my opinion and by most courts it is your fault. You are by law supposed to be in control of your vehicle and have enough room between you and the car in front of you to stop. Learn to read your own links.

      I did look at your .76 g link though. The .76 g was for turning not braking. You can have much more brakeing gs than turning gs.

      You also do not need to bring up your g forces again. If yellow lights are too short for almost any vehicle on the road they are not meeting any state standards. Any links that you post are probably outdated and the yellow lights are most likely already corrected. If they are not corrected let me know the location.

    • Randy says:

      George as I stated earlier, it is not the brake lights that are causing most of the rear end accidents. The majority of rear end accidents are people not paying attention and driving too close to the vehicle in front of them. Any rear stop lights make minor differences compared to the other things I stated.

    • James says:

      @GeorgeC – I understood your post, just not marcus’s. Sorry about the confusion.

      @Randy – Why should we believe you if you refuse to look at any evidence?

    • George [C] says:

      0.67g in C&D 200ft skidpad.
      Maybe your are dyslexic.

      214 feet 70mph to naught is 0.7654g (but depending on precision in measuring speed, and braking distance) 0.77 or 0.76 would be acceptable.

    • Randy says:

      Yes James I believe in evidence. There are dozens of pictures on the internet showing red light runners hitting other vehicles. Where are your pictures that says that is not true?




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