By on June 18, 2010

A new study of the country’s largest red light camera program found no significant benefit to the use of photo enforcement. Rajiv Shah, an adjunct professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago released the final version of his exploratory analysis into Chicago’s photo ticketing program, which boasts 188 cameras.

Shah’s analyzed Illinois Department of Transportation data obtained by the Chicago Tribune which showed that although accidents dropped seven percent at intersections citywide, fifty camera-monitored intersections saw a five-percent increase in accidents. The city used its own, much narrower dataset to claim a significant decrease in accidents. The city only had ten usable intersections and defined “accident” in a way that limits reporting of rear end collisions that take place farther from the intersection. Shah recrunched the numbers and found a net safety benefit of just 1.5 percent.

“The goal was not to do a comprehensive study of red light cameras, but only to ask whether the benefits of red light cameras are obvious,” the study concluded. “A more comprehensive study would include control groups. In sum, our findings show that red light cameras have, at best, a marginal positive impact on accidents. It’s clear that the benefits claimed by the city are hyperbole and that there is no evidence that the red light camera have had a significant safety benefit.”

Because of the limitations of the available data, Shah examined the so-called “halo effect” that insurance industry first postulated in its 2001 Oxnard study and has since become the primary talking point in favor of using automated ticketing machines. According to the theory, drivers afraid of receiving tickets will improve their habits. As a result, accidents will fall at intersections throughout the city — not just where cameras are located. In Chicago, this has demonstrably not taken place. Shah showed that from 2001 to 2008, the percentage of accidents that took place at intersections did not decrease, rather it remained steady at about 25 percent of collisions.

“This also suggests the red light cameras are not having a halo effect because accidents are not dropping throughout the city at traffic signals,” the report found.

In an email to TheNewspaper, Shah explained that he became interested in looking more closely at the red light camera issue while studying the city’s general surveillance camera network. The city has apparently exaggerated the effectiveness of these devices in solving and deterring crime, so Shah decided to see whether the same was true of intersection cameras.

View the study in a 250k PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File Effectiveness of Red Light Cameras in Chicago: An Exploratory Analysis (University of Illinois at Chicago, 6/17/2010)


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13 Comments on “Illinois: Study Finds No Benefit To Chicago Red Light Cameras...”

  • avatar

    There is a very significant benefit, revenue. Revenue was the sole purpose for their installation, no mater what they say about public safety, and they have performed wonderfully!

  • avatar

    In my own town in California, there are red light cameras on two intersections. Supposedly those two intersections — the busiest in town — were chosen to improve safety.

    But if you look at the figures for the two years prior to installation, there was one reported accident per year per intersection due to red light running. (And just one more per year due to other cause.)

    So my town gets $2 million in revenue per year purportedly to stop one accident per year. Trouble is, the accidents have continued at about the same pace. They have not gone to none. In fact, in one year they had two reported accidents!

    Safety? Right, I believe that.

  • avatar

    Nobody who reads this site regularly would have doubted the outcome of this study. Red light cameras only have one purpose. And that’s to raise revenue.

  • avatar

    What is the graph trying to say? Is it the percentage of intersections that have cameras? Then where is the number of accidents?

    1)I would assume that a 3-D graph is needed, to represent time, camera usage and accident count.

    2)There is simply too little variation in camera usage. Try 20% vs. 80% and then we will have a better idea.

  • avatar

    Did they trade side-impact accidents for rear-enders? That’s one way I could be convinced that these are worth it.

    • 0 avatar

      Rear-enders happen when traffic is moving at high speed — which is impossible in the congested city. Sure it’s about the revenue, but it clears intersections so that each direction gets to use most of its green light. Accidents don’t happen and won’t.

      Even before, when three cars scooted through on the red, it would be rare that you — if you were waiting for your green — wouldn’t wait for them to cheat their way through before taking off.

      Maybe in the middle of the night might you come cruising through that intersection at 40. Never during the day.

      And I haven’t even mentioned the rash of small and mid-size delivery trucks that are everywhere constantly on these bigger streets.

  • avatar

    But they DO make a difference.

    I live in chicago, where the traffic often moves slow and people try to sneak through on that red light — just a couple more cars — then the other way, already frustrated, more cheaters, etc.

    The cameras keep the intersections safer (certainly way less likely there would be a T-bone accident, though those are more 45-mph suburban anyway) and moving more smoothly. Some oddball six-way intersections can be such a mess with a bunch of cheaters that maybe 1-2 cars can finally get through. Now that doesn’t happen.

    And besides, if somebody runs a red (and we’re not talking about right turns on red here — they’re almost always illegal at these intersections anyway), they deserve a ticket.

    I wish they could come up with a cell phone user camera.

    • 0 avatar

      The most heartening thing I’ve seen with cameras in the city is they are often at intersections where the crossing signals have a countdown function so you know ahead of time when the light will turn yellow. At any time other than rush hour most city streets are moving faster than the speed limit so yellow lights can be short. They have been handy at some of the five and six way snarls that were laid out before there was any kind of traffic control, though.

      As for running red lights, most examples I see are police cruisers when there’s no opposing traffic. I would guess the cameras may stop sensing a few seconds after the light has turned red.

  • avatar

    I just got my very first red light ticket the other day. Here’s the problem, as I see it:

    I don’t remember pushing through the light in question. I realize that this may simpy be a failure of memory on my part. The incident occurred one month ago. I have a very serious problem with this because, unlike with an officer-issued ticket, it makes it much, much harder to proffer a defense should I choose to fight the ticket. The only reason I remember that particular drive is that I was on my way to deal with a serious family issue.

    I’m firmly in the “it’s for revenue” camp, but the far more frightening thing from my perspective is the erosion of the rights and resources of the accused.

    BTW, this is the ticket I’ve gotten while driving a car since I was first licensed over 35 years ago.

    • 0 avatar

      My girlfriend got one like yours. She swore she didn’t run the light, but there she was, several pictures worth, entering the intersection as the light changed to red, then continuing on.

      In your case you might not have remembered the ticket, but should you have been ticketed by a cop in person, that defense would never have held up.

    • 0 avatar

      I stand by my point. When an officer gives you a ticket, the memories of what you were doing are fresh. Are there mitigating circumstances? For a live ticket, you are far more likely to be able remember these issues for the preparation of your defense. Find out a month later and it’s been lost. Frankly, it doesn’t make a bit of difference if it “will stand up in court”. That’s for the judge to decide. Stacking the deck against the defendant by putting them at such a disadvantage is the problem here, not the specific arguments that might be raised in court.

      And anyone who trusts automated enforcement when there are so many factors in play (such as adjusting yellow light times and the possibility of cooking the logs) is, in my opinion, foolish.

  • avatar

    Soooooo, a government in northern Illinois might have acted less than squeaky clean and not entirely above the board? Stop the presses!!

    • 0 avatar

      I give Chicago the benefit of the doubt on this. I often expect red light tickets to arrive in the mail (when I cut it fine at an intersection) and yet they never do. I drive through several redlight camera intersections almost every time I drive and it has not been an issue. People I know who have gotten the tickets don’t moan either – they have a photo that shows them breaking a light or turning on red where it was not allowed.

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