Study: Cameras Reduce Red Light Running

by Katie Pyzyk January 24, 2013 at 11:45 am 1,028 55 Comments

Video camera mounted at the intersection of Columbia Pike and S. Courthouse Road(Updated at 12:00 p.m.) Red light running decreased in Arlington at intersections with cameras, according to a new study from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

The study focused on the cameras installed in 2010 at four heavily traveled Arlington intersections — southbound Fort Myer Drive at westbound Lee Highway, northbound N. Lynn Street at eastbound Lee Highway, northbound N. Glebe Road at Fairfax Drive and westbound Washington Blvd at Lee Highway. The public was informed of the camera installation and violators were given warnings for 30 days. After the grace period, violators caught on camera received a $50 citation.

Researchers at the IIHS (which is located in Arlington) taped traffic during the warning period, one month after ticketing began and again one year later. They found that one year after ticketing began there was a marked decrease in drivers running red lights. Violations occurring at least 0.5 seconds after the light turned red were 39 percent less likely, those occurring at least 1 second after were 48 percent less likely and there was an 86 percent drop in violations occurring at least 1.5 seconds after the light changed.

“This study provides fresh evidence that automated enforcement can get drivers to modify their behavior,” says Anne McCartt, senior vice president for research at IIHS and the study’s lead author. “What these numbers show is that those violations most likely to lead to a crash are reduced the most. The longer the light has been red when a violator enters an intersection, the more likely the driver is to encounter a vehicle traveling in another direction or a pedestrian.”

Traffic was also taped at four other intersections — westbound Lee Highway at Kirkwood Road, northbound N. Glebe Road at Washington Blvd, westbound Arlington Blvd at Manchester Street and eastbound Columbia Pike at S. George Mason Drive — to see if there was any spillover effect from the cameras. While there were some decreases in violations observed in areas close to cameras, they were not always deemed statistically significant.

In 2011, the first full year the four red light cameras were in operation, they brought in nearly $460,000 in revenue. That number halved in 2012, coming in at about $224,000. The camera at Southbound Fort Myer Drive and Lee Highway brought in the most revenue, with a two year total of nearly $304,000.

In April, the county plans to activate seven additional traffic cameras at five intersections shown to have high rates of violations. There will be two at Columbia Pike and Glebe Road monitoring Eastbound and Westbound Columbia Pike, two at S. 23rd Street and Jefferson Davis Highway monitoring Northbound and Southbound Jefferson Davis Highway, one at Columbia Pike and George Mason Drive monitoring Eastbound Columbia Pike, one at Lee Highway and George Mason Drive monitoring Westbound Lee Highway and one at Washington Blvd and Glebe Road monitoring Northbound Glebe Road. The standard one month warning period will apply, and violators will be ticketed after that time.

  • CW

    Anything that promotes safe behavior gets at least a thumbs up in my book.

    Now, how about the County start looking at more LEFT TURN ARROWS??! Westbound Lee at southbound Kirkwood, eastbound 10th at wilson, and northbound Veitch at Lee, I’m talking about you!

    • Ricardo

      The effect on *safety* is mixed: fewer accidents from running red lights, but more rear-end collisions. In one study, the effect was mostly a wash: accidents from running red lights were down by 379, but accidents from rear-end collisions were up by 375, for a net of 4. (However, the rear-end accidents were less severe than the red light accidents.)

      See this DOT evaluation for methodology:

      • bman

        Honestly I was against it at first, but being a pedestrian at intersections where people fly through already at 20 mph over, you are quickly like “WTF dude”… these people don’t care or respect the law or red light and don’t even bother to try to stop.

        • DCBuff

          Are you one of those brown flip-flopper pedestrians that ignore traffic signals but expect cars to yield?

          • CW

            What are you trying to bring to the discussion?

          • Brahdestrian

            Yeah, bro. Put down the suitcase and you’ll be able to get across the street faster. /parody

          • DCBuff

            “What are you trying to bring to the discussion?”
            That I see far more instances of pedestrians in the R-B corridor aimlessly walking across the street against red lights than I do of cars in those same zones going 20+MPH over the speed limit (e.g., 50 MPH in a 30) or running red lights. Not that such driving doesn’t exist. If this is about the safety of pedestrians then it should also include pedestrians taking responsibility for their actions.

          • drax

            Can we just for once not play this game?

          • happycyclist

            its true that cars running red lights, or going 20 MPH over the limit are few in number. The more typical violations by motorist are running stop signs without a full stop, making rights on red without coming to a full stop, and running over the speed limit, but less than 20MPH. You do realize that a speed limit of 30 MPH means its a violation to go 31 MPH, do you not? Those are typical motorist violations, just as typical cyclist violations are treating stop signs as yield signs, and typical ped violations are crossing against the light or where there is no crosswalk. All are driven by the charecteristics of the mode.

          • CW

            @DCBuff – I see far more instances of larceny than murder. I guess we should stop worrying about murders then.

            The point is that distracting from an issue at hand is not a reasonable way to discuss/debate that issue. We’re talking about red light cameras and their safety impacts. If pedestrians doing stupid things is also a major safety issue around here (as a cyclist, driver, public-transit user, runner, and fellow pedestrian, I would agree that it is a major issue), then we can discuss that. But there’s no point in throwing out distractions to the current, important topic.

            The thing about laws/policy is we can have our cake and eat it too. We could ticket cars for running red lights, and cars/bikes for doing the same thing too! It just happened that this article was about cars.

          • DCBuff

            CW–Altho drax asked that we not play this game, and I therefore moved on to quips about Audis, you’re bringing in the fruit stand. Apples and oranges. Laws are laws and should be followed and enforced. If the goal is safety–the thread began with Ricardo–then we should look at all factors. The point, which I guess you missed, is identifying threats to the safety of drivers, pedestrians, cyclists and working to mitigate those threats. Red light cameras are an option. And, contrary to your read, the article referenced pedestrians. So, bringing pedestrians (or cyclists) into the discussion is not only not distracting or unreasonable, it is directly relevant.

          • CW

            Sorry, still not seeing it. Article was about red light runners. Then you tried to accuse someone of being a bad pedestrian. Completely irrelevant because the quality of pedestrian behavior is not related to drivers willingness to run red lights. You attacked someone for no reason in an attempt to shift focus and blame to an unrelated party.

      • CourthouseChris

        I’m all for anything that results in more dented Audi bumpers AND reduces potentially fatal red-light running accidents. Sounds like a win-win to me.

        • DCBuff

          Ah, you must work for Audi of Alexandria.

          • CourthouseChris

            Hah, I wouldn’t last long there, that’s for sure.

      • Another Mark

        Thanks Ricardo. That was interesting. It seems like some of the rear-end collision effect they address is caused by the driver in front knowing about the camera and the driver behind not knowing about the camera.

        • drax

          The guy behind should know about the guy in front, and the red light he’s about to encounter.

        • stoponred

          another mark: Or maybe it’s just that the car in front obeys the law and respects other drivers.

      • CW

        Ricardo – jaded, snarky response here but…why should I care about cars illegally following too closely running into the back of cars which were going to illegally run a red light until the driver remembered the camera and slammed on the brakes? Sounds like Darwinism at work to me.

        • Dan

          ” Sounds like Darwinism at work to me.”

          I can say with some assurance that there were few if any red light cameras in Darwin’s time….

      • watchtheroad

        Rear end collisions because the car behind isn’t paying attention and plans to run the red. That joker gets the ticket and the repair bill, but that still sux because he messed up your car which will never be quite the same!

  • Eric

    But does it reduce accidents? Does it reduce fatalities? Reducing red-light running by itself isn’t helpful.

    • novasteve

      I would be interested to know how many accidents have occurred due to someone stopping with a person tailgating behind them, causing the person stopping to be rear ended. I can actually see people being more likely to stop at a yellow light with a known traffic cam there for fear of getting a ticket from it. If we you the tailgaters we know exist here, it would mean an increased risk of accidents.

      • CW

        Sounds like a POSITIVE to me. People start stopping for red lights, and tailgaters, who are always legally responsible, start getting held liable for their behavior.

        • novasteve

          Positive? Say if you get killed? Say if your car gets totalled and you don’t have the money to buy another car with the money you get for it? Being in a car accident even if it isn’t your fault, SUCKS.

          • drax

            Totalled? Killed? It’s very unlikely that a car rear-ending another in city traffic is going to result in either.

            It is more likely that running a red light could result in both.

          • drax

            Rear-ending in city traffic rarely kills anyone or totals a vehicle.

            Unlike running red lights.

          • huh?

            Novasteve, so your solution to the problem of people trying to run a red light and slamming into the car in front that actually obeys the law is to — disregard the law and other people on the highway?

      • Looking at the study linked by Ricardo above, it seems that instead of people running red lights, they are being rear-ended. The number of accidents probably will not decrease, but the severity and collateral damage of the accidents will decrease.

        I’d say that it would be a net positive, although not a huge improvement because it will only change one aspect of our area’s aggressive driving tendencies. One down, a million problems to go: next we have to solve the problem of tail-gaters and distracted drivers!

      • yellowlight

        Actually, you are supposed to stop when the light turns yellow if you can, not speed up. If it’s yellow and you’re too close to stop, you don’t slam on brakes, but by the time it’s red, you have been warned in time to stop as the law requires. The asshat behind you who tries to run it and gets surprised when you actually stop deserves the ticket, the repair bill, the busted teeth, whatever.

    • drax

      What’s your alternative?

  • Arlington Cat

    In other news, Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead.

  • QuartHouse

    Eric and Ricardo are right — these researchers chose the wrong endpoint. The end goal is safety, not just compliance.

    They need to study the actual effect on collisions, injuries, and/or fatalities.

    • Another Mark

      The study that Ricardo posted does address collisions and injuries. It even calculates economic impact.

  • Chris

    In other news, grass is green.

  • Not Me


  • Douglas Parker

    Will the revenue of these cameras be going towards the street car project?

    And discuss…….

  • SteamboatWillie

    I hate those cameras, but they are effective. My gps alerts me when an intersection is armed with a camera, which is a nice feature.

    And like bman, despite my earlier opposition, if it reduces the number of drivers speeding through red lights, that’s better for pedestrians.

    • drax

      My eyes alert me when an intersection is armed with a red light.

  • Ben

    The only cameras I approve of are the ones I saw on a TV show on the Autobahn. It measured the distance between cars and gave tickets to people following too closely.

    • DCBuff

      But there are Audis on the Autobahn…

      • SteamboatWillie

        And based on my own experience, the Audi drivers are the most aggressive on the Autobahn. I wonder why that is the case?

        • DCBuff

          More agressive than steamboat drivers, sure.

  • Statsss

    So they only covered a handful of intersections, over two randomly dispersed months? That strikes me as both irreproducible, and subject to so many random fluctuations as to render the study completely meaningless.

    For example: I take the temperature of five cities along the east coast late january 2012 and again 2013…. Headline reads: “Get your parkas out! We’re headed for another Ice Age!”

  • jan

    What’s worse: Being t-boned or rear ended?

    • malaka

      Better ask Clarendon Skank that question

    • Hank

      Wait, you’re talking about traffic accidents, right?

      • drax

        You haven’t been huffing, have you?

  • Mack

    Uh-oh, red light running is going down? Better reduce the timing of the yellow light to increase revenue!

  • JudoChop

    ARLnow, that’s not a photo of a red-light camera, that is a photo of a camera that counts vehicles for traffic studies.

    • Right, like the study mentioned in the article.

  • Roquer

    This is a bunch of hogwash. Cameras have zero effect on crime/traffic! Cops do. Cameras are just another tax. A cop stopping a red light violator causes immediate slowdowns for at least the time it takes for the ticket. Nobody runs the lite. The person being stopped doesn’t run it anymore which is the desired effect. Cameras make money, cops make traffic safer.

    • ballstonian

      Yes–but police officers stopping red light runners is a) dependent on them being in the right place at the right time b) being able to safely pull someone over given other traffic conditions c) not on their way to another call and d) not needed for other duties that can’t be automated.
      Given the Christmas Eve death on Glebe at Randolph, anything that attempts to catch and stop red light runners, I am all for.

  • Henry

    The study looked at the prevalence of running 1.5 secs. or more into the red, but it’s evident to anyone who’s watched the many crash videos distributed by the camera Industry that the crashes are occurring when the light has been red far far longer than 1.5 seconds. (The Texas Transportation Institute, sponsored by the Texas DOT, studied 41 crash videos obtained from red light cameras and confirmed what the public was noticing: “With one exception, all of the right-angle crashes occurred after 5 seconds or more of red.” They also reported that the average was 8.9 seconds into the red. (Link to the study: http://thenewspaper.com/rlc/docs/04-alternatives.pdf See pages 5-15 and 5-16.)

    The IIHS needs to go back thru their data and give us the figures for the reduction in running 5+ secs. into the red. That shouldn’t be hard for them to do. If they don’t do it, a cloud will remain over this study.

  • Ballston Lurker

    I can’t wait until Arlington starts with the $150 traffic camera tickets for speeding.


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