Editorial: Let the public assess red-light cameras

For years now, we've been warning about the immorality of red-light camera profits that have tempted officials in many suburban municipalities.

We're open to the idea that technology can be used to enforce the law and make us all safer.

If, for example, authorities determine through unambiguous data that driving beyond a certain speed on a specific stretch of road is unacceptably dangerous, then government has a responsibility to set the speed limit at that number and enforce it, and we've never opposed technological advances that have helped law enforcement do so more effectively.

The same holds true for red-light cameras. If they can be used to stop people from running red lights and endangering the lives of themselves and others, they could be a legitimate tool.

But whether they are effective at doing so is a considerable question. Daily Herald Transportation Writer Marni Pyke, no novice on the topic, continues her reporting on it elsewhere in the paper today, and the results of her analysis ought to give all of us pause.

She studied the data on dozens of suburban intersections where red-light cameras have been installed, and she found that at about half of them, the rate of crashes that resulted in injuries stayed the same or went up.

There's no doubt that officials in many of the municipalities that have installed red-light cameras were motivated by the windfall of traffic citation revenue they promised.

But we also recognize that many officials have leaned toward the technology because they genuinely believe it can make our intersections and roads safer.

Pyke's analysis suggests that's not a benefit that can be assumed. Yes, at some locations the cameras may have helped increase traffic safety. But as counterintuitive as it may sound, in many locations, it appears that they have not.

We agree with the conclusion drawn by Beth Mosher, director of public affairs for Chicago AAA. She says municipal officials ought to "be judicious and know why crashes are happening."

Beyond that, given the lack of credibility red-light cameras have with the public at large, unbiased statistics on the intersections where they're located should be made widely available.

We believe the public deserves an online statewide database of crash statistics at red-light-camera intersections so people can assess the effectiveness of the cameras for themselves.

Officials in municipalities that use the devices should be required to provide consistent and regularly updated information on the crashes that occur and the details that are relevant to understanding them.

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