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Status Report, Vol. 47, No. 3 | April 12, 2012 Subscribe

Institute responds to criticism of red light camera research

A report published by the Florida Health Review criticizes a 2011 Institute study that found red light cameras in 14 large cities significantly reduced fatal red light running crash rates (see "Red light running kills," Feb. 1, 2011).

The report by University of South Florida professor Barbara Langland-Orban alleges the finding is incorrect and the research suspect because the Institute is supported by insurers.

The Institute examined fatal crashes before and after the cities implemented red light camera programs, and then compared the results to 48 cities without cameras. The idea was to see how the rate of fatal crashes changed after the introduction of photo enforcement. The independent, peer-reviewed Journal of Safety Research published the study in August 2011.

The Langland-Orban report argues that rather than making a before and after comparison, researchers should have zeroed in on the difference in crash rates between the camera and noncamera cities after photo enforcement was implemented. Langland-Orban says that because crash rates were 25 percent higher in the "after" period in the camera cities compared with those without, the cameras must be to blame for the higher rate. It is true that crash rates were 25 percent higher, but Langland-Orban ignores the fact that they were 65 percent higher in the "before" period.

The measure that matters is what happened to fatal crashes after photo enforcement was implemented, compared with what would have been expected without it. The Institute's study demonstrates that the camera cities experienced a bigger drop in fatal crash rates. In the 14 cities that had cameras in 2004-08 but didn't have them in an earlier comparison period, automated red light enforcement saved 159 lives. Had cameras been operating during the period in all large cities, a total of 815 deaths would have been prevented.

Langland-Orban says the Institute is biased because insurers benefit from photo enforcement by raising rates on ticketed drivers. However, in most jurisdictions, including Florida, there is no insurance consequence from photo enforcement. Florida law prohibits insurers from using the violations to set rates, and in most other states tickets from cameras don't go on driver records, and no points are assessed. Many studies have concluded that red light cameras are effective, and most of them were conducted by government agencies and other traffic safety experts not connected to the insurance industry.

Red light running is a serious traffic safety problem that kills about 700 people and injures an additional 130,000 each year. Solid, published research by the Institute and other experts demonstrates that red light cameras save lives.

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