It’s common knowledge that car accidents can be fatal. With cars facilitating high speed travel, risk of injury or death is high if a driver isn’t paying attention. While traffic signals exist to reduce the risk of accidents, little can be done when they are ignored or overlooked. In 2008, 762 people died in the United States as a result of someone running a red light, and 64% of the fatalities in 2009 were in vehicles other than the one that violated the traffic signal.


In an attempt to stop these dangerous traffic violations, the government has instituted programs to install red light cameras at intersections. These cameras record photographs of cars who run red lights. As traffic enforcement officers can’t be at every intersection, these cameras help enforce traffic light laws. In theory, this would cause fewer people to run red lights, and therefore fewer deaths related to traffic light violations. But does this work in practice?


Studies have shown conflicting findings on the efficacy of red light cameras. A comprehensive 1995 study showed increases in accidents related to running red lights. A more recent 2005 study showed similar findings, with red light cameras appearing to be associated with more frequent and severe accidents. Other studies showed an increase in rear end crashes (presumably from drivers slowing abruptly to avoid running a red) and a decrease in red light running crashes.


Either way, red light cameras do decrease red light violations and generate significant revenue for cities. Whether they are effective in decreasing fatalities from car crashes seems more questionable. Perhaps further studies will show more conclusive findings.