The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety released the results of an early 2011 study this week, indicating that two-thirds of drivers in cities with red light cameras actually support them.
The study, which was commissioned by the IIHS and performed via phone by New Jersey-based Opinion America, surveyed 3,111 drivers in cities including Baltimore, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. Of the respondents, two-thirds favored red light cameras and 42 percent strongly favored them. Most surprising? Of the respondents who had received tickets, half said they deserved it.
In the survey, which was conducted between February 19 and March 29, respondents were asked questions including whether red light running was a threat to public safety, if they favored or opposed the installation of the cameras, and if the cameras made them feel more or less safe while driving.
The IIHS says a majority of people responded favorably to all three.
The results are another fight in the long battle over red-light cameras. It’s a war no one seems to be winning, either: even armed with what looks like overwhelming public support for the cameras, the IIHS can’t dispute the fact that when cameras are put to the vote, most cities opt to remove them.
Take Houston, for example: the IIHS took a separate survey of 300 people and found that 57 percent of respondents were in favor of the cameras and 45 percent of respondents were strongly in favor. But a 2006 ballot initiative in the city banned the devices from intersections, passing with 53 percent of the vote. It’s what Gary Biller, Executive Director of the National Motorists Association, calls a “contra-indication to what [the IIHS is] claiming.”
“The vote on keeping Red Light Cameras has come up in 15 cities, most recently Houston, and every one was voted down,” Biller said. “It’s completely opposite to what they are claiming.”
What they are claiming is big, too: support figures on each of the 14 cities showed a clear majority in support of the cameras, from 54 percent of respondents in Santa Ana, CA to a staggering 78 percent in Washington D.C. Biller said that the likely cause is that D.C drivers “must be getting used to the cameras.”
Opponents also point to D.C. to illustrate what they see as red-light cameras installation’s worst consequences: an increase in rear-end collisions as drivers brake harder during yellow lights to avoid being cited. A 2005 study by the Washington Post showed that accidents in the District sharply increased after cameras were installed.
Anne Fleming, Senior Vice President of Communications for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, minimized the crash increase figures and instead pointed to the severity of the crashes themselves. “In some places rear end crashes do increase,” she said, “but they’re less costly, in both human lives and property damage, than t-bone [side impact] crashes.”
It’s probably for this reason the IIHS said a majority of respondents who were familiar with the devices said they made intersections safer.
Either way, the struggle between public opinion and legislation seems unclear. In the meantime, what does seem clear is the color green: in Texas alone between 2007 and 2010, cities with cameras raked in a cool $100 million in fees.