American congressman rallies against traffic cameras

Published: March 23, 2015

Updated: July 24, 2018

Author: Callum Micucci

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An American congressman is calling for the nation-wide prohibition of traffic cameras used for speeding and red light enforcement.

Ed Perlmutter, representing the seventh district of Colorado, has tabled legislation that, if passed, would prohibit “states, cities or other local governmental entities from utilizing automated red-light and radar speeding cameras for traffic enforcement purposes,” according to a press release.

"Police officers are the only sure way to apprehend seriously impaired, reckless or other dangerous drivers," Perlmutter said in the release.  "All of us are concerned with reducing accidents and reckless driving but it is not evident photo radar cameras improve highway safety, reduce accidents or improve traffic flow."

Perlmutter claims that these cameras aren’t proven to reduce traffic violations, and instead only serve as revenue generating machines for states and cities.

Of course, the debate has existed in Canada for a long time. A report issued by Transport Canada in 2011 on road safety cites studies showing a six per cent decrease in average speeds through intersections with the cameras, and a 31 per cent reduction in drivers breaking the speed limit. The studies also cite a 42 per cent lower rate of serious injuries and fatalities.

However, stories from several major Canadian newspapers take a more critical tone. In 2008, the Toronto Star published an article citing a four per cent increase in property damage collisions at intersections after the city installed red light cameras.

The Winnipeg Sun reported an 18 per cent increase in collisions over five years after installing red-light cameras at 12 of their intersections.

The increased ratio of crashes at these intersections with red-light cameras results from people braking hard to avoid running yellow lights. The statistics show that while “T-bone” collisions are far less common at these intersections, rear-end collisions have increased.

The saving grace—and where these articles agree with the studies—is that this means a lower rate of personal injury and fatalities at these intersections, as these rear-end collisions are usually far less serious than T-bone incidents.

"Our documentation shows that in Toronto it's been a sensational success," city councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker told the Star in 2008. "Red-light cameras are saving people's lives—saving people from being maimed and injured.”

Despite the debate, it seems the Toronto wave of red-light cameras won’t be cresting any time soon: since 2004, the city has introduced 77 red-light cameras, and in all participating municipalities across Ontario, there are over 150.

Regardless, Perlmutter still feels the cameras only serve to generate revenue for cities.

“Automated traffic technology should be used for improving public safety purposes rather than local governments relying on these devices to generate revenue,” Perlmutter said.

“My constituents tell me these cameras are excessive and seem to do little to improve public safety.”