Red-Light Cameras Are Both Legal and Life-Saving

The courts have made clear that red-light cameras do not violate privacy.

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David Kelly is executive director of the National Coalition for Safer Roads

Simply put, red-light cameras are legal. Running a red light? That's illegal. Drivers who run red lights selfishly threaten the lives of others on the roadway. These lawbreakers must be held accountable for their careless, risky behavior.

Our society enthusiastically embraces technology in all its forms—from the innovations that power our smartphones and computers to the medical devices and advanced treatments that save lives every day. So, why would we shun red-light camera technology that so obviously saves lives?

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Communities across the country should not be denied cutting-edge technology that keeps our roads safe and reduces road fatalities. Resisting lifesaving technology, regardless of whether it's used in a hospital or on a roadway, is foolish and shortsighted.

Red-light cameras are making communities safer across the country. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety analyzed the impact of photo enforcement on intersection fatality rates in 99 large U.S. cities from 2004 to 2008. It found that red-light safety cameras reduced fatal crashes by 24 percent. The IIHS study said that had cameras been deployed in all major U.S. cities during that time period, a total of 815 deaths could have been prevented. In 2009 alone, 676 people were killed and 113,000 were injured in crashes involving red-light running, according to IIHS. Two thirds of those killed were pedestrians, bicyclists, passengers of the red-light runners, or occupants of other vehicles.

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As if saving lives weren't enough, the courts have emphatically declared that the cameras are legal. The U.S. Supreme Court has described driving as a regulated activity on public roads where there is no personal expectation of privacy. The law is clear: Red-light cameras do not violate our privacy. The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that cameras do not violate procedural due process, stating that "no one has a fundamental right to run a red light or avoid being seen by a camera on a public street."

The same court ruled that the city of Chicago's photo enforcement system did not violate the Constitution. When obtaining a license to drive, motorists agree to follow traffic rules and regulations, including stopping on red and following the speed limit. There is nothing hidden about safety cameras—from their presence in particular intersections to the driver's right to view the data collected by the cameras.

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More than 600 communities across the country operate red-light camera systems that improve the safety on their roadways. These communities are implementing strong standards in their camera programs to ensure they maximize safety benefits and operate with total transparency.

Law enforcement agencies and transportation officials understand that safety measures evolve and improve over time. Traffic lights, crosswalk signals, seat belts, and air bags—to name just a few—have made driving safer. The same goes for enforcement tools; dispatch systems, radar technology, and traffic cameras all help keep us safe. These tools let law enforcement do their jobs efficiently and catch drivers who are breaking laws and threatening community safety.

As more communities across the United States adopt this technology, the statistics will continue to prove our point. It is time to stop the unnecessary resistance to red-light safety cameras and embrace this beneficial, legal technology that saves lives on roadways across the country.