Red-light cameras should not be given the green light

A court ruling delivered Nov. 6 determined that red-light cameras in Ellisville, Mo., that catch a car running a red light are in violation of state law because the owner of the vehicle is ticketed instead of the driver. A St. Louis city spokeswoman, however, announced the next day that the ruling would have no effect on St. Louis’ red-light cameras. According to the statement released Nov. 7, vehicle owners may dispute that they were driving the vehicle at the time of the infraction, presenting a distinction with the Ellisville case.

Red-light cameras line Skinker Boulevard on the east side of the Danforth Campus, making them a real part of the day-to-day lives of a large portion of the Washington University community. Even though the St. Louis city statement points out that traffic violations at red-light-enforced intersections have decreased by almost two-thirds, the cameras cause plenty of problems.

Violations decrease at red-light-enforced intersections because drivers are less willing to risk moving through the intersection on yellow lights. As a result, drivers will stop short and brake sharply as soon as the light changes from green. Though studies yield mixed findings, a meta review of red-light camera safety published in Traffic Injury Prevention in 2003 reported an increase of rear-end crashes at intersections with red-light cameras.

Around campus, the cameras are inconsistent in their flashing. The light at the intersection of Forest Park Parkway and Skinker occasionally goes off when pedestrians are crossing the street or when a car slows to a stop at the intersection. This leads to confusion among pedestrians and commuters alike, and confusion can lead to dangerous situations.

More than anything, though, red-light cameras cause traffic. With drivers hesitant to move too close to a yellow light, more cars line up on all sides of an intersection, slowing down the flow of traffic. This adds time to commutes and causes frustration among drivers and passengers alike.

Other major cities have backtracked on red-light cameras, most prominently Houston in 2011. While St. Louis spent millions on installing the cameras, microeconomic principles teach that these should be treated as sunk costs. The red-light cameras, in their current state, cause more nuisance than good and should be shut down.

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