Drivers dread it -- that flash as they try to speed through a yellow traffic light. It's a red light camera, and a signal that a ticket is on the way.
Red light cameras are one piece of a growing network of automated traffic enforcement. Cameras now monitor speed, bus and high-occupancy-vehicle lanes and intersections with stop signs. Proponents like Lanier say they help to deter accidents, nab violators and allow states and municipalities to keep an eye on the roads for less.
But critics of red light programs worry about the Big Brother aspect of using cameras instead of cops. Many also say cameras, which are generally run by private companies, have spread not because they make streets safer, but because they mean profit for cities and companies.
"What the issue really comes down to is these companies are ripping people off by hundreds of millions of dollars, in the name of caring about our safety and our health and our kids," said New Jersey Assemblyman Declan O'Scanlon, who has introduced anti-red light camera legislation to the state Legislature.
Red light violations were associated with some 700 deaths and nearly 90,000 injuries in 2009, according to a study based on data reported to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Fatalities and injuries have decreased in recent years, the study shows.
Researchers, however, are divided on how much red light cameras increase safety.
In 2011, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a nonprofit research group funded by the insurance industry, released a study that found red light cameras decreased fatal accidents by an estimated 24 percent in large cities that use them.
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