Red Light Cameras: Changed Behavior and Improved Infrastructure a Winning Combination

All red light cameras will be clearly marked with a sign

A win-win for the City to improve street safety

Earlier in the year, the State of Pennsylvania passed a bill (H.B. 254) that allows more municipalities to install red light cameras (RLC) at dangerous intersections. The law says that the state will collect the fines, and municipalities will then be able to apply for 50% of the total funds to put toward safety improvements. RLCs are fairly controversial, but mostly because there is a fair amount of misinformation out there about them. When it all comes down to it, RLCs work, and help make our streets safer for everyone who uses them.

Red light running is rampant and is dangerous to all road users, especially people on bike and on foot. Red light cameras have proven to change dangerous behavior, reduce serious crashes, and save lives.

Thanks to records kept by the City of Philadelphia and other studies, we now have a wealth of information about what happens after red light cameras are installed. Pittsburgh is able to benefit from the best practices, missteps, and data established by the numerous cities nationwide that have been using these devices.

Per the Pittsburgh RLC Ordinance, all RLC locations will have an accompanying sign placed in a conspicuous area informing the public that the RLC is in use immediately ahead.

The penalty for running a red light where an RLC is places is $100, but no surcharge points will be imposed to the driver’s license, and the penalty will not be deemed a criminal conviction nor made part of the motor vehicle driver’s record. No penalties will be authorized during the first 60 days of operation of the first installed RLC, nor any subsequent RLCs in their first 30 days of installation. This provision is to give people ample opportunity to learn where these cameras are located and to adjust their driving behavior accordingly.

One of the most controversial aspects of RLCs seem to be people’s assumption that they will be used as a form of surveillance. The bill before council makes clear that the camera “must be incapable of automated, user-controlled intersection surveillance by the means of recorded video images… and may not be used for any other surveillance purposes.” However, it is not uncommon for Police Departments to request and review video and violation images as part of investigations into other crimes. The information from a RLC violation)will not be deemed public record, so it cannot be discoverable in a Right-to-Know request, or by court order or otherwise.

According to this bill, the photos are only used for violations and destroyed after 30 days of any recorded event and the City must file a notice with the Department of State that the records have been destroyed accordingly. Ultimately the data is only the property of the the City of Pittsburgh and not that of the manufacturer or vendor of the RLC system. The company does not sell data nor is shared with outside parties without their consent.

Red Light Cameras are especially good at reducing dangerous side impact crashes. While the jury is still out on how RLCs immediately affect rear end crashes, studies show an immediate decrease in the most severe front end/side impact crashes and an overall net reduction.  In Philadelphia, at intersections with RLCs for at least three years right-angle collisions decreased by 32 percent with total crashes decreasing by 24 percent, according to a 2011 Philadelphia Parking Authority report. The safety benefits increase as drivers get used to the cameras, with a proven track record of decreasing all crash types over time. Also in Philly, nearly 9 in 10 people ticketed never have a repeat violation, so RLCs really do change driver behavior.

People who are unfamiliar with RLC locations, and perhaps the most aggressive drivers, will most likely be the ones caught by the cameras. The good news is that the funds generated will be earmarked for street safety improvements. If one wants to make sure he or she is not fined, there is a very simple solution – don’t run red lights. Philadelphia has been using their RLC money for a number of years. The funds have been used to install life-saving infrastructure throughout the city, with an emphasis on intersection improvements like green bike lanes, pedestrian signals, crosswalks and traffic calming.

Not surprisingly, drivers often drive the same routes every day, and like any area that they need to approach with extra vigilance, quickly adapt and approach these intersections with more care. At first there is shown to be a large uptick in fines, but these fines decrease as people adjust and become aware and actually stop running red lights.

Red light cameras will take some adjusting to, but BikePGH supports the outcome of safer street that they ultimately achieve through crash reduction and reinvestment of fines into street safety enhancements.

Please take action and email or call your councilperson immediately to let them know that you too support red light cameras and to vote yes on the bill before council.

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