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Red light cameras are used for law enforcement in New York City, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco, Denver and Scottsdale, Arizona, to name a few larger cities. Similar systems have also been successfully used in countries such as Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Germany, Israel, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Singapore, South Africa, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.
Most people agree that driving on public roads is a regulated activity as well as a right. By obtaining a license, motorists agree to abide by certain rules - to obey traffic signals, for example - for the health and safety of all. Neither the law nor common sense suggests that drivers should not be observed on the road or have their violations documented. When citations are issued, the only recognizable person in the photos is the driver - all passenger faces are carefully blocked out.
Trained Police Officers review each citation before it is issued to ensure that a vehicle is in violation of the law. Tickets are mailed to vehicle owners only in cases where it is clear a vehicle ran a red light and the photographed driver's gender matches that of the licensed owner or a licensed driver in the owner's household.
The American public strongly supports the use of red light cameras. Two 1995 surveys sponsored by the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety revealed that nationwide, 66% of 1,006 people polled said they favor the use of red light cameras, compared with only 28% who opposed. A 1996 survey by the Insurance Research Council found that the highest support for red light cameras was in large cities, where 83% of respondents supported their use. Strong support is also found in communities where cameras are used; recent red light camera programs in Oxnard, California, and Fairfax, Virginia, for instance, were supported by 80% of residents polled.
Drivers who run red lights are responsible for an estimated 260,000 crashes in the U.S. annually, killing over 800 people each year. Nationally, red light running fatalities increased by 15% between 1992 and 1997, far outpacing the 6% rise in all other fatal crashes. Red light running crashes are also the most likely to cause injury. Occupant injuries occur in 45% of red light running crashes, compared with 30% for other crash types.
Enforcing traffic laws in dense urban areas by traditional means poses special difficulties and dangers for police who, in most cases, must follow a violating vehicle through a red light to stop it. This can endanger other motorists and pedestrians. Also, communities such as San Leandro do not have the resources to allow police officers to patrol intersections as often as needed to ticket all red light runners. Camera programs work around the clock and free police to focus on other enforcement needs.
A violation occurs when a motorist deliberately enters an intersection after a signal light has turned red. Motorists who are already in an intersection when the signal changes to red - while waiting to turn, for example - are not red light running and are not ticketed.
Camera enforcement programs have been proven to reduce red light violations as well as crashes and injuries at intersections. In Oxnard, California, for instance, red light running dropped by 42% through the use of a photo enforcement program. In other cities, intersection crashes have fallen by at least a third and serious injuries have fallen by 10%.
All types of people run red lights. The most common reason (47%) for red light running is impatience. Red light runners are more likely to be younger, have poor driving records and drive older, smaller vehicles. They are also less likely to use seat belts and are three times more likely than other drivers to have multiple speeding convictions. This means that red light runners are typically at a higher risk of injury in a red light running collision and so are the people they crash into. Motorists who are fatally injured running red lights are much more likely (35%) to be over the standard drunken driving threshold (blood alcohol concentration of at least 0.08%) than drivers of the other vehicles involved in these crashes (6%).