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Federal Highway Administration Research and Technology
Coordinating, Developing, and Delivering Highway Transportation Innovations

This report is an archived publication and may contain dated technical, contact, and link information
Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-05-048
Date: April 2005

Safety Evaluation of Red-Light Cameras

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II. Introduction

A red-light-camera (RLC) system automatically detects when a vehicle has entered an intersection during the red phase for an approach and takes a photograph of the red-light-running violation. Jurisdictional staff members review photographs to determine if a ticket should be sent to the driver.

This treatment (i.e., crash countermeasure) is aimed at helping reduce a major safety problem at urban and rural intersections. Red-light-running is estimated to produce over 95,000 crashes and approximately 1,000 deaths per year.(1) After being used extensively overseas for over a decade, the use of RLC systems has risen dramatically in the U.S. in recent years. Given the size of the problem, and the promise shown from the use of RLC systems in other countries (and by some studies in the U.S.), there is a clear need to determine the effectiveness of the RLC systems in reducing crashes at monitored intersections as well as jurisdiction-wide. There is also a need to determine if such programs can be made more cost-effective through changes in such variables as signage, signal phasing, and public information programs. Studies conducted in over a dozen U.S. cities and several foreign countries indicate that RLC programs are effective in reducing the number of red-light-running violations. However, there is much less evaluation-based knowledge on the effect of RLC programs on crashes, especially the kinds of crashes typically caused by red-light running.

While less controversial than speed-enforcement camera programs, RLC programs are not entirely without controversy. Even though an apparent safety benefit has been indicated in some studies, such programs have advocates and detractors at both local community levels and as high as the U.S. Congress. The debate is fuelled by the reality that no well-conducted, scientifically-sound, multijurisdiction evaluation of RLC program effectiveness in reducing crashes has been undertaken.

To meet this need, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) ITS (intelligent transportation system) Joint Program Office (JPO) requested submission of an RLC evaluation proposal under the ITS (intelligent transportation system) Program Assessment Support contract. The resulting contract supported the work described in this report.

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