The Red Light Camera (RLC) systems are often aimed at reducing major safety issues, especially at urban and even rural intersections. According to Shaaban and Pande (2018), the implementation the road intersections are estimated to cause more than 150,000 crashes and about 1,500 deaths annually in the United States of America. Due to the magnitude of the problem, and the prospects of using the RLCs, Retting, Ferguson, and Hakkert (2013) admits that it is essential to evaluate their effectiveness to understand the jurisdictional-wide attempt in reducing the number of crashes that happen at monitored intersections. Essentially, it must be acknowledged that the safety impacts of the RLC systems often vary significantly. According to a research conducted in the United States in 2014 with the purpose of evaluating the importance of the RLCs in the USA as explained by Aeron-Thomas and Hess (2005) the cameras were found to reduce the incidences of right-angle crashes; however, the research noted that they increase cases of rear end crashes.
Notably, most studies show that the best to of enforcing violations of red-light running is about installation of the cameras. According to Mccartt and Eichelberger (2012), such countermeasures help in reducing injury-based crashes by an estimation of 30 to 35% and the general violations to about 45%. A study conducted in Virginia Beach between 2011 and 2012 showed that installation of the RLCs at around 13 intersections improved the level of safety considerably. According to the research, in 2013, the total number of crashes in the specific locations was reduced by an estimated 25% (Jaffe, 2015). In addition to the issue of safety, other researchers such as Oneyear (2011) and Banstola and Mytton (2016) evaluated the volume of traffic per light cycle data in addition to the associated red-light rates of running in two town intersections, revealed that the red light running action also increase pressure on the volume of traffic, which in turn causes congestion. Other studies, however, suggest that the RLC systems may have the negative impact of increasing the cases of road accidents, especially at the intersections, which degrades the idea of safety. The takeaway message is that there are contrasting arguments about the effects of the RLC systems that creates a knowledge gap that this study aims to fulfill. Another study conducted by Metcalfe and Pickett (2018), which used meta-analysis on the impacts of the RLC systems revealed that installation of the programs increased the frequency of road accidents at the urban intersections by approximately 16%. That is, the study noted that the number of the rear-end crashes increased by approximately 35% since the RLC systems caused the drivers to make abrupt breaks that occurred unexpectedly. Retting, Ferguson, and Hakkert (2013) further supplemented that enforcement of the RLC systems increase rear-end accidents while reducing right-angle crashes by about 10 percent. Undoubtedly, there is a knowledge gap.
Markedly, even though the concept of the RLC systems has been existing for more than 100 years, and used in USA and Europe for more than 50 years, the several published works about the idea are only within the last 20 years. Essentially, the quality of the available literature sometimes varies, though they are seemingly deficient and different in their methodologies. In fact, the common sources of information are reports produced by municipalities, which are mostly implementing the RLC systems in urban areas. It is undeniably that such reports always show inherent conflicts of interest, particularly because of lack of independent assessments. In most cases, the reports compose of raw changes and alterations in the number of crashes, injuries, and the extent of violations. As the same time, they lack any control or comparison groups to consider and most of them are not peer-reviewed.
Proving the RLC Safety Premise
Overall, read light running has been considered as a worldwide problem that causes severe and dangerous cases of road accidents. According to the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety in the United States, about 25% of the traffic collisions in the country are as a result of red-light running. With that, the idea of inventing and installing the RLCs was to reduce the cases and numbers of crashes, and many studies such as California (2012) shows that they have the potential and have proved to be beneficial in different ways. First, McCartt and Hu (2014) argues that the RLCs have been proven theoretically to make the road intersections safer. The author further mentions that they are purposively used to reduce the cases and number of motor vehicles that run red lights, which in turn reduces the incidences of collisions at the intersections due to red light running. Nonetheless, different studies often produce results that differ, which makes it intricate to ascertain if they actually lead to safety.
In particular, assessment of different data that were derived from Virginia, Fairfax, California, and Oxnard revealed that the RLC caused about 40% reduction in cases of red light running violations. However, a longitudinal study conducted by Bauer (2007) in Australia showed that implementation of the RLC concept in different locations did not cause a reduction in the number of accidents; instead, the sites experienced increased number of collisions. Overall, the majority of the studies have shown reduction in the number of violations, injuries, collisions, or a particular type of collision. McGee et al. (2014) ascertains that many researches to not show how the RLCs definitively reduce the number of accidents, they are apparently effective for enforcing traffic laws and policies.
According to Claros, Sun, and Edara (2016), installation of the red-light cameras eliminates the imperativeness of the traffic officers to be present for enforcing the traffic signal laws. It is undeniable that the police have manifold roles and responsibilities, an in as much as red light running poses serious and dangerous problem to public health, the police are always needed to undertake about 12 more enforcement needs. According to Mccartt and Eichelberger (2012), it is impractical for the police to be everywhere at a single moment, which makes the RLC beneficial because the latter works at every intersection for 24 hours daily. Additionally, it has been proven that the RLCs produce a much safer model of enforcing the traffic laws. In several place, the traffic police are often forced to follow the violators of the red light running to stop them, which poses additional threat. For instance, Jeffrey (2010) notes that in Portland and Seattle, the officers have to follow the offenders to issue a warning or punishing ticket.
Furthermore, the concept of "halo" intersections has revealed another potential advantage of the RLCs. The concept is that the cameras have a "halo effect" on nearby or surrounding intersections where the RLCs are located. Nonetheless, it has been proven that the idea also has mixed outcomes. According to Lee et al. (2014), data collected from Seattle reveals lack of consistency in the patterns; either positive or negative with regards to the relationships to the nearby intersections. However, data collected from Tennessee and Kingsport shows that the halo effect and drivers slowed down at the intersections due to the RLCs at certain locations. The overall concept on the effectiveness shows that the available data is not conclusive. While RLCs are offering some benefits at certain cities and locations, there is no comprehensive understanding on the reduction of collisions and violations.
Disapproving the RLC Safety Premise
It has been revealed that the RLCs cause certain challenges and problems. First, Metcalfe and Pickett (2018) reveal that privacy laws and policies can make citation and operation difficult. The author noted that in States such as Washington, it is not allowed for the cameras to take photos of the vehicle drivers because the registered owner may claim that he or she was not and lead to dropping of the case. As such, it is apparent that the cameras are not effective since they cannot reveal if the drivers are driving or not. While this is not a common incidence, there is possibility in the occurrence and it shows a flaw in the technology. Nonetheless, other States such as Oregon allow photographing of the drivers, which increases chances of capturing the violators.
In addition, there is the problem of the high cost of operating and leasing the RLCs. Shaaban and Pande (2018) states that despite the fact that the overall cost varies depending on the providers of the cameras, equipment needed, and the specific contract, the RLCs have proven to be pricey in different states of USA. Metcalfe and Pickett (2018) add that a typical cost of RLC and installation is approximated to be around $100,000. Furthermore, many cities pay even high expenses since the RLC providers always claim a certain portion of citation in addition to charging monthly fees. McCartt and Hu (2014) claims that such additional fees mainly depend on the company, jurisdiction, the city, and contract that bind the two entities. In Washington, the laws says that it is illegal to pay the providers of cameras anything other than, the services provided and the value of the camera, and may not depend on the civil penalty, fine, or revenue that the equipment generates. Nonetheless, the case is not experienced everywhere; hence, the cameras may cost jurisdictions fortune to operate and install.
Moreover, there are other two issues related to the use and installation of the RLCs. That is, the violations need further screening and there is the potential for significant reduction in revenue. According to Chai, Wong, and Lum (2014), the law enforcers are required to establish criteria for reviewing every photograph. In most cases, the policy must have an independent department tasked with the responsibility of reviewing and checking every picture to ascertain the information about the vehicle and violation. Shaaban and Pande (2018) notes that while the process is imperative and essential, it is obvious that a person has to be paid to check the photos and all citations must be issued within the limited time. The author adds that the cameras often generate more than enough revenue to carter for the review process; however, if there is a backlog, the loss of revenue might increase depending on the time needed. Markedly, as for the reduction in revenue, some jurisdictions have shown that the RLCs are essentially too effective. For instance, in 2010, Texas and Dallas opted to shut down about 25% of their RLCs since the state was losing a lot of expected revenues from ticketable violations and fines were continually shrinking and even the cameras could not support themselves. That is, the drivers were keen and paid more attention on the RLCs, at least in particular areas, which caused many municipalities across the USA to reconsider the use of RLCs. Langland-Orban et al. (2016) reveals that it is good for the level of traffic violations to reduce; however, the majority of jurisdictions depend on the traffic fines to add into their budgets, which causes a problem, but depending on the perspective of the municipalities. In summation, the RLCs have both benefits and costs, which sometimes reveal differing opinions.
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