You’re approaching the intersection at a speed of 50 km/h when you see the sign that warns you of a camera ahead. The light turns yellow as you approach and you begin braking, but the person driving the pickup in the lane beside you has other plans. Flooring it, he races to beat the red, but the light changes just before he hits the intersection and he is forced to brake – getting rear-ended by another vehicle in the process.
Who do you blame? The guy driving the pickup, or the camera he feared so much that he risked his own well-being and endangered others?
Red light cameras were first introduced to Waterloo Region in 2008, with more installed in later years. Designed to make K-W intersections more secure by preventing angle collisions (collisions that aren’t direct frontal impacts or rear-enders), those photographed running a red are subject to a stiff $325 fine.
There are 16 cameras currently in operation at intersections around the region, and it looks like they’ve been doing their job. Tickets were issued to 7,528 red light runners in 2011, with 9,257 issued in 2012.
One thing causing some people to question their presence is the fact that revenue generated by red light cameras goes right into regional coffers. This allowed the regional government to earn a cool $2 million in 2012 from ticket money alone.
It’s not quite as menacing as it sounds. The region lowers property taxes with the money. In 2013, the budget allotted to ease taxes was $350,000.
According to the U.S. Transportation Research Board, however, property tax cuts are not where that money should be going if officials want a more positive response to the cameras. The board suggested revenue generated by red light tickets go toward traffic safety programs.
“Otherwise,” the board stated, “the public may perceive the program as being run for creating revenue instead of improving safety.”
But how does the public perceive the program?
Many K-W residents see red light cameras as a fair and accurate way to make sure speeders are disciplined for their actions, and with good reason. According to Waterloo transportation engineering manager Bob Henderson, “Red light cameras have reduced angle collisions caused by disobeying traffic control in the direction the camera enforces by 27 to 34 per cent.”
Henderson also pointed out that the devices have reduced turning collisions overall at intersections fitted with them.
However, there are also many residents who believe red light cameras shouldn’t be used.
“Red light cameras are a cash grab,” said Terance Awrey, a Kitchener resident. “If you inch into the red even a little bit, no people around, nobody’s going to get hurt but you get stuck with a huge fine.
This kind of opinion is not uncommon, and not totally unjustifiable.
For instance, according to recently collected Waterloo Transportation data, rear-end collisions at lights equipped with cameras have increased from 23 to 44 per cent. This has led to an increase in injuries and damages, though those injuries are less fatal.
A small increase (seven accidents) in left-turn crashes created some speculation by The Waterloo Region Record as to whether motorists may drive too aggressively out of fear of being ticketed if the light turns red while they remain stuck in a left-turn lane. According to Bob Henderson, this is a misguided view.
“Since information regarding when motorists turn left is not available, it cannot be assumed that drivers are turning left more aggressively and getting into collision for fear of red-light camera tickets,” Henderson said in an email.
“There is no conclusive evidence that suggests this change was effectively a result of the camera.”
So the cameras may increase crashes, but those crashes leave motorists significantly better off than being T-boned or side-swiped. It seems that the big problem is the simple fear of being ticketed.
Driver unease appears to be the issue here.
Conestoga student Dave DeCosta agrees. The second-year radio broadcast student said he almost hit somebody at an intersection because going through the yellow made him uneasy.
“I pulled up to a yellow light coming back from school … it was a really icy day,” he said.
“I’d thought to myself, ‘I know this red light has a camera on it,’ so I didn’t want to go through and I stopped, but since it was so icy my car slid a bit, almost spun out, and I nearly clipped a guy just because I was so worried about that light.”
It seems that as long as many drivers fear and distrust red light cameras, there will always be mistakes made at the wheel.