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Analysis: Red Light Cameras Causing Accidents, Not Preventing Them

On behalf of Dolan + Zimmerman LLP April 24, 2019

We have all seen them: the cameras that sit on top or near the traffic lights. To date, there are at least six in the City of Boulder. For example, there’s one at the intersections of 28th Street and Arapahoe Avenue, yet another one at 47th Street and Valmont Road. But just why are these red light cameras there? What do they do? And do they actually reduce the number of accidents or create more?

Why red light cameras?

Car accidents are very, very common. Every year, millions are hurt and thousands more die in car accidents. Considering these are preventable deaths, it is important for lawmakers and others to look into possible solutions to reduce the sheer number of crashes that happen on a daily basis. This is where the idea of red light cameras comes into play.

How do red light cameras work?

At these red light camera intersections, there is a metal sensor in the pavement that is actually under the crosswalk. When a light turns red, the sensors are turned on and will take two pictures of any vehicle that runs the red light. One picture is of the driver, while the other is of the license plate of the vehicle that ran the light.

The driver who runs the red light can expect to receive a traffic citation in the mail.

Do red light cameras reduce the number of accidents?

Case Western Reserve University completed an analysis looking at just what is happening at intersections where there are red light cameras. As it turns out, instead of preventing accidents, the presence of these cameras is causing drivers to react in a way that leads to more accidents.

The issue is that drivers clearly see these cameras. Worried that they are going to be mailed a traffic citation, many tend to brake hard and more suddenly, which causes more accidents.

The analysis found a significant increase in the number of accidents too, pointing to an 18 percent increase in the number of non-angle accidents. Angle accidents are things like T-bones, while non-angled accidents are the types of crashes where the two vehicles collide bumper-to-bumper. Both types of accidents are dangerous and pose injury risks.

As a driver, there are a few things you can do when it comes to driving, although you cannot necessarily protect yourself against the risky behaviors other drivers take.

For one thing, do not slam on your brakes when going through an intersection. This can lead to a crash. You should also give yourself plenty of room to be able stop if the driver in front of you does suddenly decide to slam on their brakes. However, do not blame yourself if you get into an accident with a driver who was reckless. This is not your fault. Rather, seek out legal representation with a criminal defense lawyer in Boulder to see what your next options may be.