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Carlos B. Lopez, Constable

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Bruce Elfant

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Constable's Notebook - August 2007

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, more than 1.8 million intersection crashes occur each year. Over 170,000 Americans are injured and nearly 1,000 die in accidents caused by drivers running red lights. In an effort to reduce injuries and save lives, a number of states have passed statutes authorizing red light cameras. While red light cameras are used in many states, their use has not been without controversy. Opponents of red light cameras have expressed concerns about a loss of privacy, that the cameras would be used primarily to generate revenue, and could actually lead to an increase in rear end collisions. Many of these issues are currently being litigated in a number of jurisdictions.

Several studies have found that by adding one second to a yellow light, accidents could be reduced by 40%. One study conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that extending the yellow light reduced red light infractions by 36%. When red light cameras were added, remaining violations dropped by 96%. An analysis of New York City’s red light program found that rear end collisions increased by a small amount, but “angled” crashes decreased by 60 to 70 percent.

Earlier this year Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott gave the green light for city officials in Texas to install red light cameras on roadways to ensure compliance with traffic laws. Last session, the Texas Legislature passed regulations prohibiting red light cameras from being used by cities to generate revenue or to enforce speed limits. Engineering studies will have to be completed for each intersection where cameras are installed and signs must be posted to let motorists know red light cameras have been installed.

Last month Austin officials announced the installation of red light cameras at M.L.K. and IH 35 and 11th St. and IH 35 for a two-month pilot project. During this time violators will not receive tickets or even be notified of violations. This year the Austin City Council will likely decide whether to continue and expand the use of red light cameras. If red light cameras do become an enforcement tool, citations would be mailed to vehicle owners who could face civil fines of $75.

As city staff evaluates the effectiveness of the red light cameras, they should also consider other strategies that have been used around the country including extending the time for yellow light signals and installing signal light counters to better alert drivers when lights will turn to red.

We all agree that far too many people run red lights and too many people are hurt or killed in red light collisions. One survey actually reported that 56% of Americans admitted to having run red lights. Austinites, however, don’t have to wait until red light cameras are operational to begin approaching intersections in a safer manner. The safety of drivers, passengers and others should be of paramount importance whether “Big Brother” is watching or not.



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