Collisions at Red Light Camera Intersections Go Up

5:18 PM, May 11, 2010   |    comments
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  • This crash occured at a red light camera intersection at Baker St and Courtland St. in Atlanta.

ATLANTA -- The red light cameras are starting to come down. In Georgia, new laws state if there's not a proven reduction in collisions at red light camera intersections, the cameras must come out. The Center for Investigative Action spent weeks analyzing crash test data at 17 Atlanta area red light camera intersections and discovered that serious collisions have gone up at nearly half of them.

That's got the state taking a second look. Already, Atlanta has been told to shut down two red light camera intersections because of it: Freedom Parkway at Boulevard Avenue and Piedmont Avenue at Monroe Drive.

The theory is that red light cameras will make drivers think twice before rushing a red light, thereby reducing serious collisions. Our investigation discovered two trends: an increase in rear-end collisions after the red light cameras went in and an increase in more serious side-impact or angle collisions.

Steve Decker has been a traffic engineer for 30 years both with Florida State and now Athens Clarke County. He's not surprised by our findings regarding rear-end collisions.

"That's very typical," he said standing in front of a red light camera intersection at Windy Hill and Cobb Parkway. "They may try to beat the light. They think the guy in front of them's going to beat the light and that's typical, and this is uniform throughout the United States."

However, what Decker doesn't want to see is an increase in side-impact or angle collisions.  "If I had my choice between a right angle and a rear crash I'd take the rear end collision any day," Decker said. He says that's because injuries from rear-end collisions at red light camera injuries are not as serious as angle collisions.

We examined accident reports and crash data for 17 Atlanta area red light camera intersections. We looked at data 6 months before the cameras went in and six months after. In Atlanta we looked at a years worth of statistics.

Our analysis showed an increase in angle collisions at 8 out of 17 intersections. In Atlanta 5 out of 8 intersections showed an increase in angle collisions.


              Percentage of Intersections Showing Increase in Collisions

Some jurisdictions like Lilburn took the cameras out when officials realized safety hadn't improved. However, Atlanta had to be told to take its cameras down even though they had the same data the state used to determine the cameras weren't working.

Even when faced with the results of our investigation, Atlanta Public Works interim Commissioner Michael Cheyne defended the cameras. "What I do know is it does enhance safety, and I'm for that", he said.

Freedom Parkway and Boulevard was the highest income-producing red light camera in the state in 2008, and now the city has to give back $35,000 to motorists who were ticketed in January at that intersection and at the intersection of Piedmont and Monroe. Cheyne says the city didn't receive notice from the state until the end of the month that the red light cameras would not be renewed.

It still looks like the cameras are operating. However Decker cleared it up for the CIA, "The cameras themselves have been pulled, but the housing is still there."

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