Red-light cameras: Cost-effective or not?

Moderated by Rick Badie

Roswell recently decided to ditch its red-light cameras because, officials said, they didn’t prevent crashes. Other towns have grappled with their cost-effectiveness, as expenses can run tens of thousands of dollars. Today, a traffic expert says the cameras’ worth outweighs operating costs. Alpharetta’s public safety director explains how their program costs are kept low.

Cameras didn’t help, mayor says

By Jere Wood

The Roswell City Council recently discontinued camera enforcement of red-light violations because traffic accident records did not show any reduction in the number of accidents after red-light cameras were installed.

When the state authorized red-light cameras, we were advised this technology had proven to be effective in reducing accidents and serious injuries in other jurisdictions. Relying on this advice, we installed red-light cameras at two intersections. After the red-light cameras were installed, the rate of red-light-running violations dropped by half, but the number of accidents generally remained the same.

Roswell did not initiate red-light camera enforcement to raise revenues or discontinue red-light camera enforcement because of falling revenues. We spend millions of dollars every year to keep our streets safe and would have continued red-light camera enforcement if it had made our streets safer.

For the four years that Roswell had red-light cameras, we prosecuted red-light camera cases only when violations were blatant, and we never received any complaints about improper or unauthorized use of red-light camera photographs.

Roswell will continue to monitor traffic accidents resulting from running red lights and other causes. If the number of accidents goes up after we remove the red-light cameras, we will consider their re-installation. Where new technology is effective in making Roswell streets safer, we will continue to adopt it.

Jere Wood is mayor of Roswell.

Red-light cameras make roads safer

By Gary George

I am an avid proponent of photo red-light camera systems and feel strongly that many lives have been saved by using this technology.

I have seen many changes in technology within the enforcement profession. With these changes, the law enforcement occupation has embraced technology designed to help serve and protect the public. A red-light camera system is an example of how we use current technology in a positive way to protect the public by reducing pedestrian and driver fatalities.

Red-light camera systems seem to garner continual attention because a portion of the general public believes the systems are in place to serve as a revenue stream for government. In Alpharetta, the primary purpose of the installation and continual use of red-light cameras is to positively change driver behaviors, which directly leads to a reduction of traffic crashes, fatalities, injuries and property damage. We have seven intersections that are monitored by a total of 15 red-light cameras.

In Alpharetta, the red-light camera systems are not used as a revenue source. In 2009, we changed the contractual agreement regarding our camera system. We pay the company that installed our cameras (American Traffic Solutions) a monthly amount equal to the primary fines collected for each particular month. The benefit from this arrangement is the city never pays any additional fees for the continual use of the cameras. Repairs, upgrades and annual maintenance are paid by the vendor and require no city taxpayer expenditures. It’s not about the money; it’s about changing driver behaviors and saving lives.

I believe our red-light cameras have changed driver behaviors in a number of ways. The cameras are placed at high-traffic-volume intersections. The cameras’ purpose is to be a deterrent for those who ignore traffic signals. Basically, two types of accidents occur at intersections — rear-end accidents and angle accidents. The rear-end accidents are usually caused by a motorist attempting to beat the signal.

Traffic light camera programs greatly reduce the angle accidents from someone running a traffic signal from an intersecting roadway. In Alpharetta, motorists become acclimated to the traffic light cameras being at a particular intersection and the overall accident rate decreases.

We can easily tell by our statistics that Alpharetta driver behaviors have been modified since installation of the traffic light cameras. We continue to experience a decrease in recorded traffic injuries at the intersections monitored by red-light traffic cameras. It is truly about safety!

Because of the city of Alpharetta’s red-light camera system, our roadways are safer. We continue to experience a declining number of crashes, injuries and fatalities. This technology is a great benefit to the city, and a significant number of lives have been saved!

Gary George is public safety director for Alpharetta.

Cameras prevent crashes, save lives

By Adrian K. Lund

As the familiar phrase goes, the bottom line is what matters. In highway safety, the bottom line is simple – reduce deaths and injuries from motor vehicle crashes. Among the dangerous driving practices that lead to deaths and injuries on U.S. roads is red-light running. Red-light cameras are an effective tool in preventing crashes.

They saved 159 lives in 2004-08 in the 14 biggest U.S. cities with cameras, an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety analysis found. If cameras had been operating during that period in all cities with populations of more than 200,000, a total of 815 fewer people would have died.

Roswell is among more than 500 communities that are using red-light cameras to make intersections safer. How are Roswell’s cameras working? The police chief reported that camera enforcement has dramatically reduced red-light running.

The city asserts that the cameras haven’t reduced crashes, but it isn’t possible to determine the effects on crashes in Roswell without comparative data from a similar community that doesn’t have camera enforcement. Using a proper control allows researchers to home in on the effects of the cameras and reduces the influence of other factors that can change crash numbers.

Study after study from cities around the world show that cameras make intersections safer by reducing crashes. Carefully controlled before-and-after studies show that red-light cameras reduce violations 40 percent to 50 percent and injury crashes 25 percent to 30 percent.

Without cameras, enforcement is difficult and often dangerous. In order to stop a red-light runner, officers usually have to follow the vehicle through the red light, endangering themselves as well as motorists and pedestrians. The manpower required to have police monitor intersections on a regular basis would make it prohibitively expensive. Cities pay for all kinds of traffic safety programs and infrastructure that aren’t expected to make a profit. Cities don’t remove traffic lights or guardrails because they aren’t generating revenue.

Red-light cameras wouldn’t be needed at all if cities changed the way they design roads to eliminate traditional intersections by replacing them with roundabouts. Roundabouts force drivers to pay more attention, and with no stoplights or cross traffic there is no need for camera enforcement. Unfortunately, not all intersections can be converted to this safer alternative.

Red-light running kills more than 600 people and injures more than 100,000 each year. Nearly two-thirds of the deaths are people other than the red-light-running drivers – occupants of other vehicles, passengers in red-light runners’ vehicles, bicyclists or pedestrians. Research demonstrates the bottom line for red-light cameras: They’re preventing crashes and saving lives.

Adrian K. Lund is president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

19 comments Add your comment


November 28th, 2012
5:28 pm

The red light camera’s are designed to increase revenue. The time lapse from yellow to red is 5 seconds. Reaction time for this short span is not effective enough for the drivers. The instant you see yellow, you need to stop. In some cases you either stop too soon or speed up to get through, both are a gamble. On one instance you get hit from behind and on the other you may hit someone starting out on green due to the short yellow time limit; set for revenue getting. The red light system would work if used properly, however the cost of equipment to revenue coming in would not be cost effective. Our government needs common sense. There are other safety procedures to get people to slow down and obey the rules to traffic.

too little time

November 28th, 2012
4:55 pm

They saved 159 lives in 2004-08 in the 14 biggest U.S. cities with cameras, an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety analysis found. If cameras had been operating during that period in all cities with populations of more than 200,000, a total of 815 fewer people would have died.

Great. Spend billions to save 150 lives a year.

Atlanta Mom

November 28th, 2012
3:14 pm

Based on my personal experience here in Atlanta, the cameras have reduced the number of vehicles passing thru the interesection after the light has turned red.


November 28th, 2012
3:00 pm

These atlanta folks are geniuses… how they can figure out what’s going to happen immediately after it happens!


November 28th, 2012
11:38 am

WC, I love round-a-bouts. But the couple that exist around here function oddly. They have “yield” signs at them rather than “stop” signs. Yield doesn’t mean squat to an Atlantan. They just train right on through in a solid line of cars so you end up with one direction of vehicles just moving on around combined with other directions afraid to enter the circle because there is no space between the oncoming cars who didn’t feel like yielding. The circles with stop signs that I’ve encountered in many other regions handle traffic very smoothly because nobody is tearin’ butt through them, they all had to stop, so there isn’t that fear of getting hit like the ones here carry.


November 28th, 2012
11:33 am

RTF: there is another option to speeding through the intersection when you are tailgating that other car … you could stop. Guess that never occurred to you though.


November 28th, 2012
11:25 am

Ever notice how these local officials always begin the conversation by preemptively claiming that red-light cameras are not for raising revenue.

If you really believe that they only care about safety and that they regard the thousands of $’s in fines as an unpleasant inconvenience then I have a bridge in the Gobi Desert to sell you.

too little time

November 28th, 2012
11:24 am

I am not going to read the articles. I am going to state fact.

Fact #1: All governments that have implemented traffic cameras have started out by stating that the purpose is SAFETY.. no matter the cost.

Fact #2: After a VERY short period, it has been discovered that traffic cameras have not contributed to safety … AT ALL

Fact #3: After failing to meet revenue estimates, government have started removing cameras. This is contrary to the FACT #1.

Conclusion: Red light cameras were 1) always intended for revenue ONLY and 2) Every government that has used them in Georgia (thus far) has lied about their intended purpose up to the point that they lost money. Politicians that endorsed the lie should be held accountable.

Raisin Toast Fanatic

November 28th, 2012
9:21 am

Here come the impatient a-wipes

You, sir, know nothing. Thanks for contributing nothing.