In a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study, the Traffic Safety Facts 2008 Report, more than 2.3 million intersection-related crashes, resulting in more than 7,770 fatalities and about 733,000 injuries, were reported in 2008.
The Insurance Institute of Highway Safety also reported that in 2009, 676 people were killed and an estimated 130,000 were injured in crashes that involved red-light running.
Red-light running at intersections is a major safety issue in the U.S. Many large cities like Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Phoenix, and New Orleans, already have one tool to combat it — redlight cameras — in place. Now, small towns and other municipalities are jumping on the bandwagon and getting cameras for their busy intersections.
“I observed a demonstration of traffic management cameras and decided to bring that information back to my town,” stated Mayor David Robinson of Selmer, Tenn., of a Tennessee Municipal League Conference he attended in 2006. He was already familiar with traffic management cameras from having lived in Orange County in California, and wanted to see how these types of cameras would work in his community. Selmer is located in southwestern Tennessee and has a population of approximately 4,700.
A traffic study was conducted by the Tennessee Department of Transportation on how many vehicles pass through town at two main intersections. That report indicated that 25,000 to 30,000 vehicles travel the US 64 and 45 intersection and 21,000 vehicles pass through the SR 142 and US 45 intersection on a daily basis.
Town officials contacted Redflex Traffic Systems. The first camera was installed in 2007 at the intersection of US 64 and 45. Under a lease agreement, there was no initial out-of-pocket expense for the city. A second camera was later installed in July 2011 at SR 142 and US 45.
“Traffic management cameras take pictures of vehicles of drivers who run red lights. The cameras are connected to the traffic signal and to sensors that monitor traffic flow, just before the stop bar. In Selmer, the cameras take photos of the rear plates of cars and front exposures of tractor trailers,” said Robinson. The cameras also record the date, time and speed of the vehicle.
The online data is sent to the company’s headquarters in Arizona. There, employees weed out unreadable images and also eliminate plates that belong to police cars and other emergency vehicles. Then the information is forwarded to the Selmer police department and certified officers view the data, in video form, a final time before the information is returned to Redflex. The company then issues citations to the traffic violators.
Drivers who are issued tickets can view a still image or video of the moving violation on a website. In the state of Tennessee, a law was passed in May of 2011 stating that the fine for tickets issued via unmanned cameras can’t surpass $50. Notice of the violation isn’t reported to a driver’s insurance company and does not affect his or her driving record. In other municipal jurisdictions, however, the violation might incur larger fines, additional points on a driving record, increased insurance costs and possible mandatory attendance at traffic school.
“I am very happy with the cameras,” stated Robinson. “They have done a lot for this community. From 2003 to 2006 there were two traffic fatalities and many wrecks. Since 2007 there have been no major accidents or fatalities.”
“Traffic Enforcement Cameras” and “Photo Enforced” signs are posted 500 feet before the cameras’ locations on the arteries on both sides of town. When the first camera was installed at US 64 and 45 violations were high, at 500-600 a month. That total has come down dramatically to about 50 a month. At the second site, installed in 2011, the first six months yielded around 3,200 violations. That figure has also come down.
Due in large part to the cameras, in 2007 the town took in $200,000 in revenue for traffic tickets. An average year now brings in about $75,000 to $90,000, which is put in the town’s general fund for the police and fire departments.
“With only 13 officers, three per shift and 12-hour shifts, there was no way that officers could catch or observe vehicles that ran red lights or didn’t come to a complete stop when turning right at the light. The cameras have stopped wrecks and slowed people down, in general,” said Robinson. “The video also helps in catching vehicles who drive off from service stations.”
Service station personnel describe the car, make, model and color of the vehicle to the responding officer, who then can check video data of cars going through intersections to see if a match occurs.
Even though some drivers feel red-light cameras are intrusive, a 2011 Insurance Institute of Highway Safety study found that two thirds of drivers support their use. Traffic management cameras are effective in slowing down speeders, curbing traffic accidents, and making intersections safer for both drivers and pedestrians. In addition, they have the capacity to generate revenue for municipalities and are an important aid for law enforcement personnel.