Red light cameras may not make Memphis roads safer

Most Memphis drivers are probably familiar with red light cameras. The cameras are posted at intersections around the city.

When a traffic light is red, sensors embedded in the road will trigger the camera if a car drives over the stop line. The camera then takes a picture of a driver’s license plate. The city then sends the driver a ticket for running a red light.

Memphis installed red light cameras in 2009, and the cameras were touted as a way to reduce auto accidents and improve safety for residents.

Accident numbers remained mostly steady

Memphis Police Department Deputy Chief Don Crowe stated that since installing the cameras in 2009, his officers have handled about 100 car accidents a day. This number has remained largely steady over that last nine years.

Looking at specific intersections, it also seems accident numbers have not dramatically decreased. At Winchester and Kirby, there were 126 crashed in 2015 and so far this year, there have been 120 crashes. At Walnut Grove and Farm Road, there were 105 crashes in 2015 and 79 so far in 2018.

Chief Crow suggested that drivers are still not paying enough attention because the police department expected more of a dramatic decrease in accidents.

Cameras may increase occurrence of rear-end crashes

There may also be other factors at play. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety admits red light cameras can increase the number of rear-end crashes, since drivers may stop abruptly to avoid traffic tickets. However, the safety group still supports the use of red light cameras and points out rear-end crashes are typically less severe. Even if these types of accidents are occurring more, the effect is still positive.

Some believe cameras do not improve safety and violate rights

However, the National Motorists Association takes a much harder line. The association states there is no independent evidence that shows red light cameras improve safety on roads, reduce the number of accidents or even improve traffic patterns. Further, these cameras do not allow drivers to confront their accuser, since the accuser is a camera. This violates drivers’ constitutional rights.

University of Memphis law professor Steve Mulroy suggested if the cameras do not improve safety, the devices just function as a revenue stream. In Memphis, the cameras brought in $3.9 million in 2015 and $4 million in 2016.

Some major cities like Houston, Texas and Cleveland, Ohio have removed red light cameras.

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