USF study finds red-light cameras cause accidents, raise revenue

Red-light cameras, installed in early March, were meant to bring an end to everyday traffic violations. But USF researchers suggest the cameras are part of the problem they were intended to fix.

Instead, the cameras are causing more accidents and creating extra revenue for companies that installed them, researchers say.

Etienne Pracht, associate professor in USF’s College of Public Health, and a team of university researchers investigated the cameras, which he said are controversial because Florida statutes state that cameras are illegal at public intersections.

“The statute has to do with state roads,” Pracht said. “The way they’ve gotten around it is by putting the cameras on private property, or sometimes they violate the rule.”

According to the The Associated Press (AP), Florida’s attorney general ruled in 1997 and again in 2005 that the cameras could be used to gather research for other purposes.

Because state law requires that an officer actually observe a traffic infraction before a ticket can be issued, statutes do not permit citations or fines based off photos.

However, Florida legislators support the cameras, Pracht said, which are expected to help fund 21 local trauma hospitals.

Pracht and his team began looking at existing studies on the effectiveness of the cameras last year. Their findings, which were published last month, confirmed that red-light cameras are associated with an increase in crashes – something he said could be fixed through the “intersection approach.”

“We have to look at an intersection and, if there is a problem, we have to figure out what the source of that problem is and then ask yourself, ‘What is the best way of solving this problem?'”

The team came up with two suggestions:

– Pracht said 80 percent of red-light running is done within the first second that a light turns red. Increasing the time a light stays yellow, even by one second, could reduce this number.

He said cities in California decreased the time a light stays yellow to increase revenue from citations.

– Putting a camera in an intersection encourages many drivers to slam on their breaks, which causes accidents, Pracht said.

According to the AP, legislative analysts found that, while the cameras reduce red-light violations by at least 40 percent and crashes that result in injury by at least 25 percent, rear-end crashes tend to increase.

Pracht said the team is working on a second study because of controversy surrounding their claims.

“We’ve decided to do a kind of question-and-answer paper, which should be in review soon,” he said.

The Hillsborough County Red Light Enforcement Program has cameras in six intersections: Fletcher Avenue and Bruce B. Downs Boulevard, Sligh Avenue and Habana Avenue, Brandon Boulevard and Grand Regency Boulevard, Bloomingdale Avenue and Bell Shoals Road, Waters Avenue and Dale Mabry Highway, Waters Avenue and Anderson Road.