Red-Light Cameras Favored in 14 U.S. Cities, Says IIHS Survey

July 5, 2011

Red light cameras have been a hot topic ever since they were introduced a decade ago as a safety measure. Some drivers hate them and, if given a chance, vote down any referendum seeking to put them in use. Others may or may not think red light cameras can save lives. But the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) just released the results of a new survey of drivers in 14 big U.S. cities that shows most drivers support red light cameras.

This may come as a shock to Los Angeles, since that city's Police Commission vetoed red light cameras as too costly and not a proven safety mechanism. The Los Angeles City Council could have overruled the Police Commission but couldn't muster sufficient votes. Nobody asked drivers. And, to be fair, Los Angeles wasn’t one of the “big U.S. cities” surveyed.

Five other California cities are: Bakersfield, Long Beach, Sacramento, San Diego and Santa Ana. Approval for red light cameras in those cities ranges from 48 percent (Long Beach) to 71 percent in the state capitol (Sacramento).

But it’s not just cities in California that apparently favor red light cameras as a safety measure. Two Arizona cities, Chandler and Phoenix, approve to the tune of 73 and 74 percent, respectively. Two Midwest cities, Chicago and Toledo, also approve, at 65 and 58 percent, respectively.

All the rest of the 14 cities – with the exception of Washington, D.C. with a 78-percent approval – rank in the mid- to high-60s percent favoring use of red light cameras to save lives.

These cities were chosen because they have long-standing red light camera programs.

An earlier study released by the IIHS showed that cameras have reduced the rate of fatal red light running crashes by 24 percent in these same cities surveyed.

Interestingly, Houston's voter referendum late last year shut off the city’s red light cameras. The IIHS, however, says the vote didn’t reflect the view of the majority of drivers. According to the IIHS, most of Houston’s drivers favor red light camera enforcement.

There seems to be a bit of a disconnect here between who goes to the polls to vote for or against red light cameras and what drivers actually think about the issue. It may very well be the same with Los Angeles drivers/voters, none of whom got the chance to make their voices heard via ballot or poll. But the cameras effectively shut down July 31 in L.A. when the city contract with American Traffic Solution expires.

Note there's a huge gap between support for camera enforcement (right-turn on red, etc.) versus red-light camera enforcement. Running a red light increases the risk of a T-bone intersection crash. And not everyone in the IIHS survey favored red light cameras. Comments from a little more than a quarter of those surveyed ranged from red light cameras being more about money than safety (26 percent), make roads less safe and lead to more accidents (19 percent) and are an invasion of privacy (17 percent). 

No matter which way you look at it, this issue won't go away anytime soon.

Percentage of drivers supporting red light cameras in 14 U.S. cities surveyed

Bakersfield, CA – 68%

Baltimore, MD – 67%

Chandler, AZ – 75%

Chicago, IL – 65%

Garland, TX – 66%

Long Beach, CA – 48%

Phoenix, AZ – 74%

Portland, OR – 68%

Raleigh, NC – 62%

Sacramento, CA – 71%

San Diego, CA – 64%

Santa Ana, CA – 64%

Toledo, OH – 58%

Washington, D.C. – 78%


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