Do Red Light Cameras Make Rochester Streets Safer? [PHOTO: FringeHog, Flickr]
Posted by: Renee Stetzer, pedestrian safety advocate and blogger at RocVille.com

The City of Rochester began installing red light cameras in 2010. There are currently over 30 intersections equipped with red light cameras (see the full list and a map here external link) The cameras are active 24/7 and get still photos and video anytime a vehicle runs a red light. Registered owners of vehicles that are “captured” running red lights in those intersections are sent a Notice of Liability in the mail.

Many drivers, of course, do not like the presence of the cameras. They feel like big brother is watching…

Do Red Light Cameras Make Rochester Streets Safer? [PHOTO: Yousuf Fahimuddin]

According to a report in the Democrat & Chronicle in 2012 external link, a driver in Rochester was issued a red light ticket every 6 minutes. And the tickets were disproportionately for those living in the poorest neighborhoods. Nationwide (there are about 25 states with programs), red light cameras are under fire for being revenue-generating systems for cities, being ill-timed with traffic lights, offering no human witnesses and not reducing the number of accidents – to name a few.

It’s that last one that has cities still advocating for their red light camera programs – reducing the number of accidents in those intersections.

Does the presence of red light cameras make streets safer?

There doesn’t yet seem to be nationwide consensus on the impact external link those red light cameras have on street safety. And there may be all sorts of factors that differ from city to city external link that impact the effectiveness. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety external link reported that the DC suburb of Alexandria is seeing a reduction in the number of violations and fewer repeat offenders captured by their red light cameras, which could point to a behavioral adjustment. In Orange County, FL red light cameras reduced the number of accidents by 14% external link. And many cities across the nation are advocating for determining the true impact before giving up on an opportunity to make streets safer.

The City of Rochester is one of those cities. It conducted a study back in 2012 external link, the results of which were inconclusive. Several years later, the city now has more data and is conducting a study external link to determine the impact the presence of the cameras have. Results should be available in July.

I am extremely interested in hearing the results of the study. I have seen enough reports from among the over 540 communities across the country that use red light cameras that convince me we should look at the data. I am an advocate for any and all things that make our streets safer for EVERYONE, regardless of how they traverse those streets.

I’ll keep you posted as I learn more.

I’d love to hear your comments too. Regardless of how you FEEL about seeing those red light cameras, do you think they make people less likely to run a red light and cause an accident?


  1. I hope they do, and they are a lot cheaper than adding hundreds of traffic cops. I think they may also help with people who race to get to yellow lights. I really don’t notice them but, then again, I try not to run red lights.

  2. If they are timed appropriately (and that’s a big if) then I can fully support them.

    However if the yellow lights are shortened and/or the cameras are firing on yellow lights, then I am most definitely against them.

  3. It’s already been proven that red light cameras increase accidents including rear end collisions as people try to avoid a ticket. Many people avoid the red light camera intersection and move to other streets increasing accidents on those streets. All across California and Texas cities are abandoning these money machines as they actually cost the cities money and do not reduce red light running, unless the city breaks the law and shortens the yellow light timing to catch more people. Studies have shown if cities retime their yellow lights for a longer period accidents actually do decrease at a higher rate than claimed by these companies at almost no cost to the city.

  4. I’ve done my own investigation of the studies claiming an increase in rear-end collisions, and can only come to the conclusion that we need a lot more data and examples. For example, there’s some evidence showing the real reason collisions increase is because more people are actually stopping at the light, but the assholes who never stop anyway just keep on going and collide with the stopped vehicle.

    Even if that’s not the case, I call shenanigans on blaming the camera. Where’s the blame assigned to the jackass who realized a little too late they miscalculated being able to make it through the yellow in time and then slammed on their brakes instead of playing it safe and slowing down to stop? Or, to the jackass behind them, who also saw the light as yellow and should’ve been slowing down independently of the vehicle in front of them? Or not driving so close behind so as to be better able to react?

    As to the cost to municipalities, it’s a good red herring. A lot of these costs are due to lawsuits brought against the city by people who want them removed, not a direct result of the cameras themselves.

    And, some locations are removing them is not evidence of their ineffectiveness, merely evidence that some locations are removing them. Their reasons for doing so might be divorced from the reality of what they do, as is so often the case when power derives from the consent of the governed (we ARE talking Texas and California, after all). As this article states, there are cities and states showing tangible benefits of having them, both financially and in reduced accidents. Perhaps drivers are just worse in Texas and California, but better in Florida?

    I live on a quiet little corner with a 4-way stop in Irondequoit. At any given time, I can sit and watch 10 cars go through that intersection, and only one will stop…at most. Even then, it’ll most likely be a “rolling stop”. If there were such a thing as a stop sign camera, I’d be at town hall every day annoying them until they put one in. As it stands, I’m in the process of designing one myself. 🙂

    My point is the root cause is you have human beings behind the wheels of multi-ton death traps. They all suffer from the fundamental attribution error, and all believe themselves to be master drivers (just wait until everyone starts posting about what a great driver they are in response to this comment) capable of extraordinary feats of driving prowess. Until we have a fully automated vehicle grid where no person is allowed to pilot a vehicle, these are a good stop-gap. At the very least, we’re sucking money out of the pockets of those who deserve to have it done to them.

  5. My my someone is testy. It was my job to do traffic studies for the Los Angeles Unified School District and to create safe paths for our children to go to school. We worked with AAA, the Los Angeles Police Department and USC to study these very things you are describing. Taking pictures of people running red lights does not stop it from happening.

    Contrary to what you are saying they are removing red light cameras from Florida as we speak. St. Petersburg is the first of many cities removing the cameras. http://www.tampabay.com/news/localgovernment/st-petersburg-delays-talk-of-red-light-cameras-for-missing-council-member/2168856 Maybe they are not such good drivers after all?

    These cameras do not statistically show any useful reduction in red light accidents, or they would be kept in place. As for their money making potential cities loose money on the very expensive camera set-ups, and over false ticketing of innocent drivers who are caught in the intersection when the light turns red, or turning right on red. To be legal a police officer must watch each infraction, but this does not occur. Instead the contract company makes 65-75% of all revenue, and the city makes nothing. The companies suggest the city shorten the yellow and do so illegally to make their money. Which now catches not red-light runners, but innocent drivers caught by this new shortened yellow.

    Your claim that ***holes keep running lights or slamming on their brakes is true, but you cannot legislate good driving habits. As for your intersection I suggest you call the city engineers office, and your councilman and insist a traffic light be installed and additional traffic enforcement be placed there until the people on your street get the message.

    The reason they are being removed is not because people don’t like them, as they are popular, but because they cannot show any data, (other than the companies altered data), that show red light cameras actually work. They are expensive for cities to operate, and they actually reduce the use of actual police enforcement as the city relies on cameras instead of officers. There are so many false tickets that the cities are going broke trying to defend these cameras.

    Blaming the cameras? Yes. I worked for Motorola’s closed circuit security camera division and these cameras often take blurred, or difficult to read images. Especially if the city or company do not do regular maintenance on them. Then there is the companies man who reads the license plates and sends tickets illegally to innocent drivers. Remember only a police officer can do this. Each one of these cameras is $4,700 just for one camera, not to mention everything to make it work and hiring 3 or more full time officers to watch the cameras 24 hours a day 7-days a week. This is coming from your pocket with increased motor vehicle fees.

    The Office of Program Policy and Analysis and Government Accountability report clearly states that red light cameras do not live up to their billing. The number of these devices on Florida roadways is exploding while the number of collisions at red light camera intersections is increasing, said Henry Stowe, the organization’s Transportation Chairman. The fact that cities and towns are using traffic crash data only 61% of the time as the main factor in determining where to place a camera is “engineering malpractice,” according to Stowe, if in fact, they reduce crashes. The report states that overall crashes have increased at red light camera intersections while actual injuries have not fallen in a statistically significant way. It is time for the state to rip these constitution shredding devices off the lampposts, said Stowe. The revenue take on motorists has more than tripled since 2010 while overall safety has not statistically improved. The fact that a government agency is urging the legislature to modify the program is significant, however, not enough. “These devices need to come down for good,” said Stowe.

  6. Your argument is based on “they’ve been shown not to work”, but the Federal Highway Safety Administration says differently:

    A 25 percent decrease in total right-angle crashes;
    A 16 percent decrease in injury right-angle crashes;
    A 15 percent increase in total rear-end crashes; and
    A 24 percent increase in injury rear-end crashes.

    Those look like significant and positive results to me.

    “It’s already been proven that red light cameras increase accidents including rear end collisions as people try to avoid a ticket.”

    “Taking pictures of people running red lights does not stop it from happening.”

    So, how do you reconcile these two statements? The first statement suggests that accidents increase because people stop at the light, albeit too quickly. The second says it doesn’t stop people from running red lights. BTW, it hasn’t been proven that red light cameras increase accidents.

    The rest of your argument revolves around mis-use or mis-placement of the cameras, which are issues, yes. But, they’re not evidence of an overall problem with the cameras.

  7. “House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, is crusading against the red-light cameras that have sprouted up at intersections around the country, saying that they violate constitutional principles and that localities have deliberately shortened yellow-light intervals in order to raise revenue.” D’Agostino, Armey takes on traffic-surveillance cameras Lawmaker says cities have shortened yellow lights to raise revenue, (visited August 24, 2001) http://www.worldnetdaily.com
    The Armey Report continues stating that, “none of the reports that are supposed to tell us that red light cameras are responsible safety benefits actually say that. First, they dismiss increases in rear-end collisions associated with red light cameras as ‘non-significant,’ despite evidence to the contrary. Second, they do not actually look at red light intersection accidents. The latest accident study in Oxnard, California, for example, only documents accident reductions ‘associated with’-not caused by-red light cameras. Although that statement has little scientific value, it does have great marketing appeal if you don’t look too closely.”
    The Armey Report points out that, “To date, the only case studies of red light running and camera use in the United States have taken place in Arlington, Virginia, City of Fairfax, Virginia and Oxnard, California. … The studies performed at these locations share a lot in common, mostly because they were all performed by the same researcher. Consequently, they also share many of the same flaws in methodology.”
    Perhaps the greatest fault with the Oxnard Crash Study found in the Armey Report is not contained in the Oxnard Study itself-rather, it is what the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety researchers did NOT study. The Armey Report states, “(I)ncredibly, the 2001 IIHS Oxnard study did not actually study any accidents caused by red light running. ‘…the crash data did not contain sufficient detail to identify crashes that were specifically red light running events…’ (2001 Oxnard report, page 1). Nor did it even study accidents at intersections that have red light cameras.
    “Instead, the study’s author, Retting, merely looked at accident codes from a database over a 2 and a half-year period to claim that accidents throughout the Oxnard area dropped by about 30 percent as a result of the red light cameras. The connection between area accidents and red light cameras is only an implied connection. There is no scientific evidence in the report showing any demonstrable connection between the two.
    “That is why the 2001 report is entitled “Crash Reductions Associated With Red Light Camera Enforcement in Oxnard, California.” Notice that it does not say, ’caused by.’ But, nonetheless, the report is still used as a marketing tool to sell red light cameras.” Freedom Works: Home Page of the Office of the Majority Leader, The Red Light Running Crisis: Is it Intentional (visited August 24, 2001) http://freedom.house.gov/auto/rlcreport.asp
    CHP- Stop Red Light Running program
    An additional effort targeted red light violators during the 2001 Oxnard Crash Study period, the Stop Red Light Running program. In California, this program ran from September 1997 through April 1998, during which “the CHP has been specifically targeting red-light runners as part of a six-month program supported by a $25,000 grant from the Federal Highway Administration.” Campos, Red Light Runners Get Extra Attention, Sacramento Bee (Jan. 1998) page B1.
    According to the U.S. DOT, Federal Highway Administration, “The Stop Red Light Running Program was created by the Federal Highway Administration in 1995 as a community-based safety program. This campaign raised awareness of the dangers of red light running and helped reduce fatalities in many of the participating communities. In April of 1998, DaimlerChrysler and the American Trauma Society partnered with FHWA to continue the Stop Red Light Running Program. … Early results of the campaign showed that it has raised awareness of the dangers of red light running by 60 percent and reduced crashes at some intersections in some communities by 43 percent. DOT, Federal Highway Administration, Safety, Stop Red Light Running (visited August 24, 2001) http://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/community/srlr.htm.
    While the drafters of the 2001 Oxnard Crash Study might not consider the Stop Red Light program a “comprehensive traffic safety program” worthy of consideration in their analysis, it would seem relevant to ask whether the impact of such an education and targeted enforcement program could impact the behavior of the driving public. The FHSA thinks so, but to what extent this statewide program affected drivers in Oxnard during the study period we simply cannot say.

  8. Australian Study: Red Light Cameras Increase Accidents

    In 1995 a study was undertaken in Australia, at the request of the Department of Road Safety. The report (Andreassen, Australian Road Research Board Report: A long term study of Red Light Cameras and Accidents, (Feb. 1995) Australian Road Research Board, Ltd. ARR 261), (Australian Study) it is one of the most comprehensive looks at the effect of red light cameras to date. The authors of the Armey Report, discussed above, contend that the “Australian Study” is a model of how to conduct a red light research project. In the Armey Report, they state the following in regard to the Australian Study:

    “The report’s conclusion is the most striking, particularly considering the American coverage of this issue: ‘There has been no demonstrated value of the Red Light Cameras (RCL) as an effective countermeasure” (page 1).

    Red Light Cameras and Rear-end Accidents

    The Australian study goes on to conclude that red light cameras tend to cause rear-end accidents. “This study suggests that the installation of the RLC at these sites did not provide any reduction in accidents, rather there have been increases in rear end and adjacent approaches accidents on a before and after basis…” (Page 20).

    This should come as no surprise. The goal of a red light camera is to make people fear being ticketed if they enter a camera-controlled intersection on red. Common sense dictates that if the desired effect of red light cameras is achieved, there will be an increase in rear-end accidents. This is because motorists fearing a ticket will panic and slam on their brakes to avoid entering an intersection. This sudden maneuver can surprise cars and trucks behind, causing a collision.” Armey Report, supra.

    In a paper entitled, “Comments on The Red Light Running Crisis: Is It Intentional?” the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety challenges the findings in the Armey Report. In a section captioned, “Flaws in Australian Study,” the IIHS states, “this study doesn’t follow scientific methodology. In particular, noncamera sites are used as controls, a problem because the spillover effect of camera enforcement to sites without cameras has been well documented. The authors don’t account for the many confounding factors that cloud the results of the study over its 10-year period (aggressive speed camera enforcement during these years, robust alcohol enforcement, traffic signal changes during the study period, etc.). And it’s worth noting that the Australian study, unlike nearly all studies conducted by Institute researchers, has not been published in the scientific literature.” Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Comments on The Red Light Running Crisis: Is It Intentional?” (visited August 26, 2001) http://www.hwysafety.org/safety%5Ffacts/comments.htm.

    Note: This protestation about the scientific validity of the Australian Study seem at odds with the fact that the IIHS researchers cited the Australian Study in both the 1999 Evaluation of red light camera enforcement in Oxnard, California, study, and the 2001 Oxnard Crash Study.


    The 2001 Oxnard Crash Study conclusions seem based upon questionable assumptions, and further study is needed before we can say crash reductions in Oxnard were associated with red light camera enforcement.

    While it cannot be debated that the affects of red light running are tragic and deplorable, it can be debated whether red light cameras do anything to help resolve this problem. The most prominent paper published on the safety effects of red light cameras was the 2001 Oxnard Crash Study. However, this study suffers from a number of shortcomings which bring its assumptions into doubt. Specifically, the 2001 Oxnard Crash Study never looked at accidents caused by red light violators; failed to factor in potential impact of related traffic safety legislation; failed to account for local traffic safety measures and statewide law enforcement programs targeting red light violators. Yet, without benefit of this data, researchers claimed that a 7% reduction in overall crashes and a 29% reduction in injury crashes through out the City of Oxnard were the result of automated enforcement cameras.

    By way of contrast, a ten year study of automated enforcement cameras conducted in Australia yielded an opposite result. The Australian Study found that there was no long-term reduction in accidents at intersections equipped with automated enforcement cameras -indeed, that study concluded that such cameras increased the number of accidents, due to a rise in rear end collisions.

    Given the absence of proof that the reduction of accidents in Oxnard had anything to do with automated enforcement cameras, and the conflicting evidence offered by the Australian Study that cameras increase crashes, further study is needed before we can say with certainty that crash reductions were associated with red light camera enforcement in Oxnard, California

  9. Scholars Uncover Flaws in Red Light Camera Research
    American Journal of Public Health confirms errors in the first study used to sell red light cameras in the US.

    American Journal of Public HealthUniversity of South Florida researchers have uncovered fundamental flaws in the first US study to claim red light cameras decrease accidents. Since 2001, the insurance industry’s report on the benefits of red light camera use in Oxnard, California has been cited by hundreds of cities as the basis for the adoption of photo enforcement (view study in PDF). Researchers Barbara Orban, Etienne Pracht and John T. Large attempted to replicate these findings and discovered that the Oxnard numbers, intended to serve as the model of peer-reviewed scholarship, simply did not add up.

    “The regression analysis of [Oxnard study authors Richard] Retting and [Sergey] Kyrychenko does not support their conclusion that red light cameras reduced total or injury crashes,” the University of South Florida team wrote in the American Journal of Public Health last month.

    In 2004, North Carolina A&T University Professor Mark Burkey was the first to publish a detailed critique of the methodology used in the Oxnard report (read critique in PDF, see page 13). The Florida researchers verified Professor Burkey’s findings.

    “The Oxnard red light camera study violates many basic principles of sound statistical public health research and lacks internal and external validity,” the Florida researchers concluded. “All red light camera investigations should be scrutinized for adherence to applied research methods since studies with greater adherence to quasi-experimental research designs have concluded red light cameras are associated with large increases in crashes and since special interest groups with a financial stake in red light camera use are actively working to influence public opinion and policy.”

    A number of observers have pointed to conflicts of interest involved in the Oxnard study. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety funded the research which, in turn, helped its parent companies collect millions in additional profit. Because widespread installation of cameras has increased the number of photo tickets issued in California, each of which carries license points, these companies have been able to collect substantially higher annual insurance premiums. In 2001, the former majority leader of the US House of Representatives slammed the Oxnard study’s primary author for not disclosing his own fundamental conflict of interest.

    “Before joining the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Retting was a top transportation official in New York City at the time the city began looking into becoming the first jurisdiction in the country to install red light cameras,” a 2001 report from the Office of the House Majority leader stated (view report). “In other words, the father of the red light camera in America is the same individual offering the ‘objective’ testimony that they are effective.”

    As of September 29, Retting was no longer employed by the Insurance Institute. He now works for Sam Schwartz Engineering, a toll road consulting firm.

  10. The FHSAA never conducted a study. This was based on a flawed Texas study, which has since been shown to be flawed and incorrect, and the Oxnard studies in California by the IIHS which is the insurance lobby, which has also been proved to be seriously flawed. They did not take any data on crashes at these intersections that proved they were the result of actual red light running, rather than weather, turning on a red, a drunk or drugged driver, or simply inattention. So they cannot prove that there was any reduction directly related to active red light cameras. If there is no actual proof that they work, I do not have to prove that they don’t work. The CHP Red Light Project had an equal or better result, without wasting money or being watched by a private company. And we had State Troopers patrolling the road, who could help with accidents, drunk drivers, overloaded trucks, and dangerous weather conditions. What would you rather have, a brainless camera that has been shown not to work, or an actual trooper who can help the whole community with a variety of problems. At least with the trooper I know I violated the law when I get a ticket, unlike the camera run by a private company.

  11. Honestly, you almost lost me as soon as you trotted out Dick “God Wouldn’t Allow Global Warming” Armey’s assertions against the scientific validity of studies, but I plowed through your comments anyway.

    Sure, my assertion on Armey’s a bit of an ad hominem, but as my logic professor once joked “It’s not necessarily an ad hominem if the other guy actually is an idiot”. When you have a guy who has spent his life denying the validity of the science behind evolution and climate change…I have to question any statement he makes challenging the validity of the science behind anything.

    You then state “The FHSAA never conducted a study”, but that’s not true. This one was done in 2005, AFTER the Oxnard study, and finds consistency with previous studies, including Oxnard.


    “Common sense dictates that if the desired effect of red light cameras is achieved, there will be an increase in rear-end accidents.”

    I don’t go by “common sense” because as Einstein said, “Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen.” I’ve never met two people who agreed on what constituted “common sense”, that’s why we go with data.

    So far, all you’ve done is confirmed there’s enough dissent and discussion that further research needs to occur, and I’m glad the city’s going to do that. This isn’t to say what you’ve presented is completely wrong, just that I’m getting conflicting information from people who are not “anonymous guy on the Internet”, and the information they’re providing seems more credible.

  12. Good news, arguers! The report is out. We are safer due to red light cams. Also, one has to wonder what the goal here is.

    Ask me, as a pedestrian, if I care about dickhead drivers rear ending one another? Wait, I don’t? And they don’t get injured in said collisions? Well then, I’m perfectly happy with increased rear end collisions if that’s the trade off for significantly reduced vehicle-on-person collisions.

    If your concern is with the drivers of said vehicles over the people on foot, either by choice or by circumstance, than you need to rethink who’s piloting 4,000 lb deathmobiles and who is happily going about their business otherwise.

  13. Rochester decries being a modern city and declares we like the money we make off our taxpayers and we aren’t giving up the cash! Who cares about safety when BIG DOLLARS pour into city coffers from these big companies? Who cares if every other big city in the USA are getting rid of these money making cameras? WE like our money! Taxpayers be dammed, we will just lie our way through and keep the money coming! Enjoy your tickets everyone. You will get one even if your innocent. Follow the money trail stupid!

  14. There are some great treatments for paranoia these days, Michael. You, and those around you, no longer need to suffer.

  15. I fear even dignifying a response like that, Mr. Smith, but I think you’d be surprised at how few tickets you’d get living car-free. It’s unlikely the 25%+ of Rochester households that don’t own a car are being fleeced in the manner you describe. I imagine most cities are taking them out due to one of two things: 1.) The positive – they are graduating to the sort of geometry changes that make a difference. I look forward to the day this can happen in Rochester. We’re not there yet. 2.) An angry white motoring public finds anything that questions their total hegemony an affront to their dignity, and they’re willing to fight tooth and nail to take back the glory they lost only in their minds’ eye.

    Did I mention the cameras make laughably little money? Here in Boulder they have never earned more than $317,000 in a year. Boulder just voted for a .3% sales tax increase expected to earn $28m a year. That means the cameras are equivalent to a tax increase of only .003% (3 thousands of a percent). Oh, but it’s only on drivers? And nearly universally one ones who drive badly? THE HUMANITY!

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