End of NJ red light camera program may have mixed roadway safety effects

New Jersey’s red light camera program is set to expire in December; the effects the program’s end could have on intersections safety are not yet clear.

Many drivers in West New York, New Jersey, pass through countless intersections every day without thinking about the risk of accidents. However, red light running and other unsafe maneuvers can make intersections dangerous places. According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that over 2.3 million intersection accidents occurred in 2008. These motor vehicle accidents killed more than 7,700 people and caused over 733,000 injuries.

New Jersey is approaching the end of a red light camera pilot program, which aimed to reduce intersection accidents by discouraging red light running, according to an article posted on NJ.com. The program will expire in December, and so far, lawmakers have not introduced legislation to extend it. Unfortunately, the effects the program's cessation could have on roadway safety are unclear.

Safety gains and losses

Proponents of red light cameras state that the devices discourage speeding and red light running, but critics worry they have mixed effects. For instance, rear end crashes may increase in red light camera intersections due to drivers stopping abruptly. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety notes that some studies have reflected this increase. However, the same studies reveal decreases in T-bone crashes, which typically cause more serious injuries, and in general injury crashes.

The effects of New Jersey's camera program have been debated, according to the NJ.com article. Critics and proponents bring up the following points:

  • A Department of Transportation study of 22 camera-equipped intersections published in 2014 found accidents decreased notably during the two-year period when the cameras were operational.
  • Critics note accidents fell at nearby intersections during the same time period, rendering the findings meaningless.
  • Proponents argued that the cameras encouraged safer driving habits, which carried over to nearby intersections.

The net effect that red light cameras have on intersection safety is mostly debatable. However, there is evidence that misuse of the camera systems can significantly raise the risk of accidents.

Conflicts of interest

NPR explains that traffic engineers often must balance two conflicting interests: making intersections safer and generating more revenue to support ongoing safety programs. As intersections become safer, revenue falls. City and county governments may offset the loss by increasing fines, or they may take more dangerous measures.

According to NPR, University of Tennessee research shows that shortening yellow lights by one second can increase red light running by up to 110 percent. A 10 mph speed limit increase near an intersection can raise red light running by 45 percent. Tactics like these have been used in the past in New Jersey; News 7 reports that in 2013, videos revealed several yellow lights turning red as much as one-quarter of a second early. While this change seems minor, it could still raise the risk of accidents for unwitting motorists.

Outlook for New Jersey

If the state's red light camera program expires, motorists may see fewer rear-end collisions, and local governments won't have incentive to create potentially risky conditions near intersections. At the same time, more serious intersection accidents could start occurring more frequently.

Anyone who has sustained injuries because another driver violated traffic laws or acted recklessly should meet with an attorney to discuss compensation that may be available.

Keywords: traffic, accident, injury