Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Study Adds More Fuel To The Red Light Camera Debate

From: http://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:MUTCD_W3-3.svg&page=1


Traffic enforcement is one part of law enforcement that raises the public's ire. While the public doesn't mind cops cracking down on murderers or burglars, cracking down on traffic offenses can get the public hoping mad. Part of this is because most people aren't going to commit a murder or break into a building. However, nearly everyone has committed a traffic violation at some point.

When law enforcement introduced automated traffic enforcement such as speed cameras or red light cameras there were even more howls of protest. It's one thing to get caught fair a square by a real cop, but it was something else entirely to get a red light camera ticket. Here's in Texas there were calls  on the legislature to outlaw the cameras and some communities even voluntarily removed the cameras because of the backlash.

As the public and policy makers debate these cameras there have been conflicting studies about the efficacy of these enforcement tools. This may not be the last word in the debate over the cameras but there was a piece over at The Atlantic Cities that looked at a recent study relating to them that was interesting.
In nearly 2,800 light cycles, about a quarter of all last cars to enter the intersection went through on green, and 63 percent on yellow. The remaining 12 percent crossed on red — but when the cameras were still on, that rate was only 3 percent. (At intersections that never had cameras, the last-driver-through crossed on red 14 to 15 percent of the time.)

That finding alone wasn't terribly surprising: when punishment for a behavior goes from nearly certain to random at best, you expect the behavior to increase. What intrigued (and unsettled) the researchers was how quickly drivers reverted to red-light running form. In the immediately aftermath of the law's expiration, the risk of someone running a red light at an intersection was three times higher than it had been when cameras were on.
This won't stop the debate or the general public's distaste for automated traffic cameras but it is worth taking into account nonetheless.

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