Spotsylvania County already has decided to install cameras on school buses to catch drivers who break the law.

Could cameras on red lights be next?

As the Board of Supervisors was approving the school bus cameras at last week’s meeting, Chris Yakabouski noted his interest in red-light cameras and suggested the county look into them. The cameras are aimed at decreasing red-light running, something traffic officials and safety advocates consider a serious problem.

In Virginia, 10 localities use red-light cameras, from Alexandria, Arlington, Fairfax and Falls Church to Richmond and Virginia Beach.

In a subsequent interview, Yakabouski repeated his interest in red-light cameras.

“It’s something we should explore,” the supervisor said.

He said he isn’t sure how his fellow supervisors feel about the cameras, but said he sees drivers running red lights all the time and considers it a problem. Other supervisors voiced mixed feelings about red-light cameras.

There are critics of the cameras who cite “Big Brother” issues and increases in rear-end crashes. But there are road safety groups that tout the technology as a way to cut down on red-light running and crashes at signalized intersections.

The technology has been around for decades. The first red-light camera program started in 1992 in New York City, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The National Coalition of State Legislatures says 23 states allow red-light camera programs, but at least nine states prohibit them.

The IIHS reports that 341 communities nationwide use red-light camera programs, which is down from earlier this decade, because the programs were dropped in some localities. It isn’t completely clear why red-light camera programs have decreased in recent years, but IIHS pointed to at least one reason why some programs have been shuttered: lack of revenue generated through fines, often because drivers stop running red lights.

But IIHS and other road safety advocates highlight the deaths and injuries caused by red-light runners and point to the cameras as a way to reduce them.

IIHS reported that 890 people died and an estimated 132,000 were injured in crashes caused by red-light runners in 2017. An IIHS study found that red-light cameras reduced fatal intersection crashes by 21 percent in big cities and 14 percent overall.

A 2005 report by the Federal Highway Administration showed a crash reduction in seven communities that took part in the study, resulting in $18.5 million less in losses related to such crashes, according to IIHS. Another study showed that crashes increased 30 percent after red-light cameras were removed from intersections.

Other IIHS studies indicate that red-light camera programs are popular. In a 2012 study, for instance, 87 percent of Washington, D.C., residents supported its program.

Critics have pointed out that fines in some localities, including D.C., are being used as a revenue-generating resource. And some studies have identified negative impacts from the cameras.

One 2018 study focused on three big Texas cities, including Houston, that provided data on a red-light program before and after voters banned it in 2010. The study supported the effectiveness of red-light cameras in reducing the number of cars running lights, but found flaws, according to one of the study’s authors, Case Western Reserve University assistant professor of economics Paul J. Fisher, who wrote about the findings in the journal The Conversation.

The study found that after the red-light cameras were removed in Houston, T-bone crashes increased 26 percent, but all other crashes decreased 18 percent. The study determined that red-light cameras reduced crashes by a “statistically insignificant 3 percent.”

To Fisher, the discrepancy in crashes suggest “that the program’s drawbacks cancelled out its benefits.”

He wrote that they “found no evidence that red-light cameras improve public safety. They don’t reduce the total number of vehicle accidents, the total number of individuals injured in accidents or the total number of incapacitating injuries that involve ambulance transport to a hospital.”

Fisher acknowledged the problem of intersection crashes, but not the red-light camera solution.

“Electronic monitoring,” he determined, “is not the solution.”

Yakabouski acknowledged that he has a lot of questions, such as cost, and said he might not even want the cameras in the end. But he wants to talk about the possibility because he sees a lot of red lights being run and it concerns him.

Supervisor Gary Skinner said he has wanted red-light cameras for years and he would like to explore the possibility of bringing them to Spotsylvania. Supervisors Paul Trampe, David Ross and Tim Mclaughlin sounded more hesitant, but said they are open to learning about it.

Trampe, who said he once beat a red-light camera citation in D.C. by proving he was making a right turn on red, doesn’t like them.

Ross said he isn’t aware of impacts with the cameras. He said the potential safety aspect interests him but worries about such things as “false tickets.”

McLaughlin sounded skeptical about the red-light cameras, but acknowledged doesn’t know a lot about them. While he said he understands the interest in the program, he’s not sure red-light cameras are the answer.

“I’d say we’d have to be careful with that kind of technology.”

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Scott Shenk: 540/374-5436

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