Short Yellows & Red Light Cameras Linked to an Increase in Virginia Auto Accidents

Authored by Allan M. Siegel

Researchers from the National Motorists Association (NMA) have found an increase in traffic accidents at intersections where red light cameras were installed in Newport News, Virginia. The study analyzed crash data from the past six years and confirmed that the use of camera enforcement failed to uphold a promise of improving safety. In fact, in 2005, the Virginia Department of Transportation temporarily paused the use of red light cameras after it was discovered that car accidents increased at the intersections where the devices were used.

However, Newport News was one of the first jurisdictions in Virginia to re-adopt the use of automated ticketing. Unfortunately, the use of these cameras again led to an increase in collisions. According to crash statistics, there were 41 injury accidents during a six-month period before the cameras were installed at three intersections along Jefferson Avenue. After the cameras were placed at these intersections, there were 64 reported injury accidents during the following six months.

While many have claimed that these cameras are a source of driver distraction – and therefore a cause of accidents – engineers have also suggested that jurisdictions are exploiting yellow light times by making them illegally short. According to Virginia law, signal times are established according to a set of guidelines created by the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE). One ITE engineer has pointed out that Newport News' signal times for turn lanes are 1.5 seconds too short for the speed of approaching traffic. In addition to increasing rates of traffic accidents, these short yellows and red light cameras have generated more than $2 million in tickets since 2010.

As a result of this study, the ITE has asked Virginia to clarify and amend traffic policies to address short yellow lights. Questions will likely still remain as to whether red light cameras – a hotly debated issue throughout the nation – are as safe as they claim.

What do you think? Are traffic light cameras good – because they slow people down, and stop people from running red lights – or bad because they cause more accidents?