Studies have shown that rear-end collisions increase when cameras are installed, so the overall accidents increase. It definitely can be argued that rear-end collisions are not as dangerous as T-bone collisions, but they are still collisions. Engineers should be doing everything they can to avoid them. If every alternative has been exhausted and the only choice is to choose one type over another, then the discussion can turn to which type is less dangerous. Until then, we want to see fewer accidents. Period.
The problem here is that politicians are making the decision by looking at things from an economic perspective. Since red light cameras promise to pay for themselves and then some, it’s an easy decision. Cameras come first before other more expensive methods.
What are those expensive methods that help reduce red-light running? For starters, how about retiming signals? Synchronization with the rest of the signal network has the benefit of improving traffic flow in addition to reducing red-light running. Adding a second or two to the yellow has also been shown to reduce collisions. The FHWA offers some more ideas to improve safety here.
There are even newer ideas being put forth to reduce the rate of red-light running. One was presented in the August 2007 issue of the ITE Journal, and the basic premise was to paint the message “Signal Ahead” on the pavement at a precise point before the signal. It would be measured based on the yellow timing and the speed limit so that drivers could know that if the light turned yellow while they were in front of it, they had time to stop safely. If the light turned yellow once they had passed it, they had time to get through the light before it turned red. The article, available without figures here, showed that the rate of red-light running could be reduced 65% with this pavement message.
Painting a pavement message is fairly cheap and retiming signals that need them anyway is also a wise investment. But since cameras actually generate income, they have become the first choice. We can only hope the camera contractors don’t work to reduce the yellow signal length like some have been accused of doing, and we can thank our legislature for keeping these off of state roads until better solutions have been tried. We can also ask for better solutions.
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