How could proposed Baltimore traffic camera renewal impact road safety?

Research shows speed and red light cameras reduce total accidents and injuries, but they may also contribute to certain accidents, such as rear-end crashes.

Using speed cameras and red light cameras to make the roadways safer is a source of controversy in many areas, including Baltimore. While proponents believe these devices aid in traffic law enforcement and reduce accidents, critics contend that they violate drivers' rights, make unacceptable errors and even promote more accidents and injuries.

According to CBS News, Baltimore's system of 83 cameras has been shut down for over a year, primarily due to issues with ticket accuracy. However, the mayor's office has expressed interest in restoring the system after investigations are complete. Recently, WBAL TV reported that, given the present pace of the investigations committee, the cameras could be back in use between summer and fall. Unfortunately, the ways this could affect roadway safety are not entirely clear.

Reducing speeding, light running

Speed cameras and red light cameras are designed to address two significant causes of car accidents and injuries in the U.S. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, in 2012, almost one-third of all motor vehicle accident deaths, or more than 10,000 fatalities, involved speeding. Red light running is less deadly but still problematic; in 2012, about 133,000 people were injured in intersection accidents involving red light running.

Speed and red light cameras have been proven effective at discouraging both behaviors. One IIHS study shows that red light camera installation reduces all fatal intersection accidents by 17 percent and lowers the number of accidents involving red light running by 24 percent. According to WTOP News, a recent Department of Transportation study conducted in Washington, D.C., found that speed camera installation reduced accidents and injuries by 16.83 percent and 20.38 percent, respectively.

These findings suggest that the renewal of Baltimore's camera program may reduce the risk of serious and fatal accidents. However, other research indicates the risk of some accidents may actually increase once the camera program is launched again.

Unintended side effects

WTOP News notes that red light and speed cameras can contribute to rear-end collisions because they cause drivers to slow or stop abruptly to avoid speeding or light running. The IIHS states that a study of seven cities sponsored by one government agency found a 15 percent increase in rear-end accidents in intersections with red light cameras installed.

Supporters of the camera systems often point out that rear-end collisions tend to be less serious than other accidents, so this change isn't a significant safety concern. For instance, the study that observed an increase in rear-end collisions also found a 25 percent drop in T-bone crashes, which are usually more severe. This gain offset the smaller increase in less serious rear-end crashes. Still, drivers should understand they might face a higher risk of some accidents once the cameras are in use again.

Assistance after accidents

Unfortunately, traffic cameras and other means of enforcement cannot prevent every accident involving speeding or red light running, and the camera system may even increase the risk of accidents when following drivers are not paying attention. Drivers who have been injured because other motorists were failing to observe speed limits or traffic signals should consider meeting with an attorney to discuss options for pursuing compensation.

Keywords: car, auto, accident, injury