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Are Virginia Red Light Cameras Promoting Safety?

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Red light cameras that the city of Virginia Beach, Virginia (VA) installed in 2009 have been a hot issue for local residents, with lots of controversy over the appropriateness of having cameras out on our roadways. The city last year installed 20 of these red-light cameras at 13 intersections around town, attaching a $50 fine for drivers who ran the red lights. The fines are handed out based on photographs taken at the intersection, which are then reviewed by individual police officers.

The goal of the program was to prevent dangerous and costly collisions. In just one year, based on information taken from 20 cameras, over 64,000 violations were issued, amounting to a total of $2.5 million in fines. Now, a year into the program, there is some data emerging to measure just how successful it has been, and the results are somewhat mixed.

Overall, the number of accidents at the 13 intersections has decreased. According to data from 2008, nearly 300 crashes were recorded at the intersections that were targeted for the program. Now, that number has fallen to 226 total crashes, a decrease of nearly 25 percent. However, data from each individual intersection is less clear, with accidents increasing at some intersections while decreasing at others. One specific intersection—at Virginia Beach Boulevard and Great Neck Road — saw an 82 percent drop in the number of collisions in just one year. In addition, the preliminary data seems to indicate that the type of crash occurring has changed, with a higher percentage of crashes now being rear-end collisions instead of T-bone collisions, which generally tend to cause more serious property damage and injuries.

These statistics, including an initial increase in rear-end collisions, are so far consistent with studies conducted in other cities across the country that have similar programs. Given that nationwide, there are over 2 million intersection-related crashes, there is a strong need to address red-lighting running. And federal highway safety agencies, such as the Federal Highway Administration, have found red-light cameras to be an effective enforcement mechanism to reduce red-light running and the resulting crashes.

Given that the program in Virginia Beach has only been in place for a year, it is a bit premature to be drawing any concrete conclusions from the data. More data and the ability to draw comparisons across the city and with accident statistics in general is needed to fully assess the program’s success. Nonetheless, city officials express optimism in the program’s effectiveness at changing driver behavior and decreasing accidents.

About the Editors: The Shapiro, Cooper, Lewis & Appleton personal injury law firm, which has offices in Virginia (VA) and North Carolina (NC), edits the injury law blogs Virginia Beach Injuryboard, Norfolk Injuryboard and Northeast North Carolina Injuryboard as pro bono services.