The Magazine

Does the Road to Hell Have Red Light Cameras?

Jun 10, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 37 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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Longtime Weekly Standard contributor Steven Hayward, in an item at the Powerline blog, draws our attention to a report by the Federal Highway Administration and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on “Red Light Camera Operational Systems.” As is typical with government reports, the soporific wording of the title seems designed to deter anyone from finding the fascinating information inside. The report looked at red light cameras around the country—justified in the name of safety—and found that they are actually hazardous to drivers. Red Alert Politics summarized the findings: 

The presence of red light cameras at traffic intersections increased the likelihood of rear-end crashes by 14.9 percent and the number of injuries in traffic intersections by 24 percent. Red light cameras also do little to prevent “T-bone” accidents, where the side of one vehicle is impacted by the front or rear of another vehicle, as those accidents often occur when the driver is not paying attention, and not simply disregarding a red light.

Though critics of red light cameras have long pointed to evidence suggesting red light cameras have this effect, the fact that the federal government has signed on should cause a reexamination of municipal priorities. Will city and local authorities who have become drunk on the revenues generated by these ticketing machines sober up and see the light? 

Given the hundreds of millions of dollars these infernal devices take in across the country, The Scrapbook doesn’t expect to see fewer red light cameras anytime soon. Hayward notes that the report on the hazards of red light cameras is yet another example of how government action is blind to the “law of unintended consequences.” Hayward, as per usual, is correct insofar as you believe public officials were sincere in their safety rhetoric. If, however, you suspect as we do that the purpose was always to raise revenue—then they are functioning precisely as they were intended to.

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