The real problem with red light cameras

The city of Beaverton, Oregon is locally renowned for diligent enforcement of traffic laws. Between traffic officers and red light cameras, more than 33,000 citations were issued last year.

For comparison, that’s more tickets than the much larger cities of Salem or Eugene issued – and more than the similarly-sized Hillsboro and Gresham combined.

A share of the revenue from those tickets goes to Redflex Traffic Systems. And now the company has a contract to install cameras at 22 more intersection approaches, according to The Oregonian.  That’s more than double the number of existing cameras.

Beaverton pays the company $40 for every red light ticket issued.

There is a good public safety case for red light cameras. Drivers running red lights are a primary cause of intersection accidents.  The very existence of red light cameras is proven to reduce right-angle (left-turn) car accidents – although there is evidence that rear-end collisions increase.

The problem is that a high car crash rate in any given intersection could be a sign of an engineering problem that should be addressed with design adjustments, or light timing.

And a private business profiting from traffic tickets has no incentive to address the underlying problems contributing to traffic hazards.

While red light cameras continue to generate revenue and the rate of intersection accidents is reduced in some areas,  the underlying safety issues with street design, pedestrian signals, etc. are just never addressed.