Running red lights kills. In 2021, 127,000 people were injured in crashes that involved red light running, and over 1,000 more lost their lives. Although most drivers would not think of themselves as red light runners, the definition includes many more motorists than you might think. Of course, red light running includes those that illegally speed through an intersection when they can tell that the light is red.
However, those who mistime their driving and enter an intersection just as the signal changes, as well as those that turn right on red when it isn’t allowed or without coming to a full stop, are also violators.
To discourage red light running, many states have chosen to install surveillance on intersections using red light cameras. These cameras activate when a light is red and collect information on motorists who commit violations. They capture information such as license plate numbers to be stored, reviewed, and eventually, to issue a ticket to the violator.
The Surveillance Debate
Each state has its own regulations regarding the use of stoplight cameras. There are pros and cons to the implementation; some states happily use them as a means of decreasing accidents and generating revenue, while others are cautious of potential privacy and safety concerns. Here are the main points in favor of installing cameras at stoplights:
- Results. Surveillance is generally effective at preventing speeding and red-light running. Some studies even suggest that red-light cameras can be associated with a 20% decrease in injuries resulting from traffic crashes, which is valuable when red-light violations have such a high correlation to accidents and injury.
- Deterrence. Red light cameras are a type of “general deterrence,” which are methods of deterring crime that target those who have not yet committed offenses, as opposed to targeting those who have and preventing them from committing again. General deterrence is very complicated to implement and thus often not a major prevention of crime. However, this is not the case with traffic violations – general deterrence is highly effective at reducing crimes committed by motorists, and red light cameras make use of this effectiveness to lower the rates of accidents.
- Funds. Traffic cameras can generate a lot of revenue for the state, enough so that they often pay for themselves. Some states such as Texas limit how this excess revenue can be spent. If red light cameras generate more money than it takes to operate them, the excess is redistributed to the community, funding trauma centers for car crash victims and local transportation.
However, not everyone can agree that these benefits have a tangible impact, or that the positive impact outweighs the negative harm. Stoplight surveillance isn’t without its flaws.
Here are some of the arguments against using cameras to deter red light runners:
- Effectiveness. Although it is true that stoplight cameras have been shown to reduce rates of speeding and red light running, there is still some contention over the overall effectiveness. Red light cameras that aren’t distinguished by signs at their intersection don’t tend to stop as many accidents, and many of the studies that claim to prove the effectiveness of red-light cameras have methodological shortcomings.
- Revenue. Many advocates in favor of red-light cameras cite revenue generation as one of their main benefits. However, it’s important to remember that most intersection cameras are actually owned and operated by the private companies that produce them – not local governments. This means a significant portion of the revenue that comes from red-light cameras is simply being distributed back to private companies, and is not going to help local law enforcement.
- Dangers. Though it’s possible that stoplight cameras reduce T-bone accidents, they may be creating equal issues in other areas. When drivers are afraid to go through a light and risk getting a ticket, they may be more likely to slam on the brakes at a yellow light and cause a rear-end collision. So, even though they may decrease crashes at intersections, they could actually be increasing crashes overall.
Some of these statistics are conflicting. Naturally, government-funded studies that were commissioned to justify investment in stoplight cameras tend to favor their usage, demonstrating their safety benefits and crash reduction capabilities. By contrast, private studies tend to find that stoplight cameras are too expensive for too little benefit. Because there is so much information about the topic, states have to make decisions about traffic surveillance usage based on the values of their constituency.
Indiana Laws on Stoplight Surveillance
Indiana doesn’t use red light cameras. Though they aren’t illegal here and speed cameras have recently been put into occasional use, the state government doesn’t employ any red-light safety cameras at intersections. You can compare Indiana’s stoplight surveillance laws to those in other states using the Governors Highway Safety Association’s Speed and Red Light Cameras map.
Other Traffic Surveillance
Although red light cameras are some of the most openly debated forms of traffic surveillance, other ways for the police to monitor motorists may actually be more effective at preserving safety. Highway cameras, work zone cameras, and school zone cameras are different types of surveillance that can deter and help catch traffic violators. Although highway cameras are most commonly used by police to determine the causes of accidents, you can actually watch Indiana traffic cameras yourself using the Indiana Department of Transportation’s TrafficWise tool.
Work zone cameras, too, are a common surveillance method in the Hoosier state; new legislation is actually expanding their use. House Bill 1015, which went into effect on the first of July, outlines a pilot program wherein drivers speeding in active work zones could be automatically ticketed by cameras. Tickets will be issued only when the work zone is active and only when the driver is speeding by over 11 miles over the speed limit or more, and the DOT can only use this technology to put surveillance in place in up to four work zones at once statewide.
Other states, though not Indiana, have similar laws regarding school zones, where a camera will read license plates and issue tickets to motorists who commit traffic violations in school zones.
The Future of Stoplight Surveillance
Traffic surveillance in Indiana has a new face as of recent years, and that face is the surveillance company Flock. In the past year, the IMPD has placed over 200 of Flock’s ALPRs, or Automatic License Plate Readers, throughout the Indianapolis area in order to crack down on crime. These advanced ALPRs not only clock a vehicle’s license plate number, but also its make, model, color, and any identifying features such as visual designs or damage. The cameras collect this information for every car that passes through and store it for 30 days; though it can be accessed by police, the cameras are actually privately purchased and can be utilized by other groups, such as homeowner associations.
Though supporters of the cameras contend that they deter traffic violations and help locate stolen vehicles, some evidence actually suggests that these don’t meaningfully affect crime rates, and privacy advocates worry about the degree to which these cameras may allow neighbors to track neighbors.
The American Civil Liberties Union has also raised concerns over the efficacy of ALPRs as, in the past, errors in identification have led to intense, “high-risk” traffic stops being conducted on completely innocent civilians. Like red light cameras, ALPRs clearly have their pros and cons, but unlike red light cameras, ALPRs are already in use throughout Indiana. Although Indiana police cannot see if you’ve run a red light, they can and do run your license plate every time you pass underneath a mounted Flock camera or in front of a camera attached to a police car.
Injured in an Indiana Traffic Accident? Call Stewart & Stewart Attorneys
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