by Kevin Allman
Red light cameras saved 159 lives in 2004-08 in 14 of the biggest US cities, a new analysis by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety shows. Had cameras been operating during that period in all large cities, a total of 815 deaths would have been prevented.
"The cities that have the courage to use red light cameras despite the political backlash are saving lives," says Institute president Adrian Lund.
"Courage" probably isn't the word that comes to mind for drivers who receive a $140 ticket in the mail, and certainly there's plenty of suspicion that the real thing being saved by red light cams isn't lives, but municipal budgets; last November, a spokesman for Mayor Mitch Landrieu said the New Orleans red light cams have fattened the city's coffers by $24 million.
There's plenty of support for them from other local officials as well, including New Orleans Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas and members of the city council. As council vice-president Jackie Clarkson said in a hearing in November 2010, "This is primary public safety, it has reduced speeding and it has reduced red light violations."
Not everyone is buying the IIHS study, however. The National Motorists Association, which was founded in 1982 to combat the then-national 55 MPH speed limit (like Sammy Hagar, they just couldn't drive 55), has been fighting red light cams for years and is calling shenanigans on these findings. Then there's Greg Mauz from the nonprofit Best Highway Safety Practices Institute, who tells USA Today, "Doing nothing is better than putting up cameras. There are about 700 additional deaths since cameras have proliferated, from 2001 on. The whole idea that cameras can prevent fatalities and crashes is total nonsense."
Check out the Associated Press video report on the study. And for an interesting (but probably not comprehensive) list of red light cams in New Orleans, check out PhotoEnforced.