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Red Light Cameras: Cash Or Crash?

Written by Brian Maass

GREENWOOD VILLAGE, Colo. (CBS4)- As more and more Colorado municipalities are embracing photo red light technology, that automatically tickets drivers for running red lights, a CBS4 Investigation has found some of the cameras are not having the desired effect of reducing intersection accidents.

The cameras catch drivers who run red lights, sending them a $75 ticket if they are found to be in the intersection after the light has turned red.

“Well, the intent is to reduce the amount of injury accidents,” said Fort Colllins Police Department Captain Jim Szakmeister.

Fort Collins has two intersections covered by red light cameras. But CBS4 found the cameras at the intersection of Harmony and Timberline Roads have not had the desired impact. The cameras at that intersection were installed in June of 2007. The year prior to the cameras going in, Fort Collins recorded 33 accidents in the intersection with eight of the accidents involving injuries.

In 2009, there were 52 accidents reported at the intersection, eleven of them involving injuries. Preliminary 2010 data shows 55 accidents at the Harmony-Timberline intersection with 16 of those crashes involving injuries.

“I’m surprised we’ve seen an increase in injury accidents because the whole goal is to reduce that,” said Capt. Szakmeister, who oversees the patrol division.

Asked why the volume of accidents, and injury accidents, are going up not down, Szakmeister said “I have not the foggiest idea.”

During the interview, he suggested that a number of factors may be contributing to the upward trend in accidents including more distracted drivers, reconfiguration of the intersection and nearby growth and development that may be putting more cars in the intersection.

“We are concerned the number of accidents has increased,” said Joe Olson, traffic engineer for Fort Collins.

Farther south, in Greenwood Village, police are also trying to figure out why one of their red light camera configurations is not driving down intersection accidents. Greenwood Village has three intersections covered by red light cameras. The cameras have produced about $1.5 million in revenue for Greenwood Village since they were installed. Cameras at the intersection of Orchard and Quebec went up in 2005.

“The goal in our city is to reduce traffic accidents, the number and our injury accidents,” said Sgt Dustin Varney.

In 2005, Greenwood Village police counted six accidents at the intersection, with three of the wrecks involving injuries. In 2009, there were eight accidents in the intersection, six of them involving injuries. In the first seven months of 2010, there were nine crashes in the intersection, three involving injury.
“That intersection is a mixed bag of data,” said Sgt. Varney, “and why, I don’t know.”

He theorizes nearby development in the last few years may be putting more cars on the road, increasing traffic at the intersection.

Varney said two other intersections covered by red light cameras; Belleview and South Quebec Street and South Yosemite and Arapahoe Road have seen significant reductions in accidents and injuries.

“We’re trying to protect you from being injured or killed or you injuring or killing someone else. We believe it’s a tool to help manage the situation better,” said Varney.

Aurora has four intersections covered by red light cameras. They are planning to add camera coverage at six more intersections. In a memo sent by Aurora Police to the Mayor last year, police wrote that after a five-year analysis of accident data at their photo red light intersections “the data at the intersections shows a mixed result.”

The study noted that at the intersection of Mississippi and Potomac, before the cameras went in, the study found 21 rear end collisions. After the cameras, the study noted 52 rear end crashes. At Iliff and Blackhawk, the Aurora study shows there were 18 rear end crashes before the cameras, 44 accidents after the cameras were installed.

“I don’t have a real strong explanation for it,” said Aurora Police Division Chief Roger Cloyd, talking about the unexpected numbers. “We have seen a decrease at some intersections and an increase at some intersections.”

Cloyd said while rear end collisions may have increased at some intersections, broadside and t-bone wrecks that typically cause more serious injuries are down.

“My hope is that serious accidents go down and that’s been our experience so far. It’s effective in holding people accountable and in my mind that’s why we’re expanding the program. It’s holding people accountable for bad driving behavior,” said Cloyd.

Jim Frye, a vocal critic of photo red light cameras in Aurora, is considering putting together a ballot measure so Aurora residents can vote on whether the cameras stay or go.

“To me, they are just a revenue generating machine for the city and not having an impact on safety,” said Frye.

Frye dismisses national studies that show red light photo enforcement has saved lives.

“They ought to have more officers on the street instead of these mechanized money collecting machines raising revenue for the city,” said Frye.

Around the Front Range, many municipalities provide numbers showing their red light cameras are reducing accidents. The City of Boulder provides figures showing a reduction in accidents of nearly 60%. Commerce City recently installed its first red light camera. In a short period of time, accidents are down by about 50 percent at that intersection. Cherry Hills Village says its red light camera has dramatically reduced crashes.

But across the country, voters from Houston to Maryland to California have voted to pull the plug on their cameras, in some cases saying the cameras did not succeed in cutting accidents.

Additional Resources

Click here to see Greenwood Village’s Accident Report, Boulder’s Red Light Enforcement Analysis, Cherry Hills Village Photo Red Light Assessment and Aurora’s Accident Analysis.

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  • French Wine Girl Travels

    The flashes of light from the red light cameras and from the ticket vehicles parked on the side of the road are very bright and distracting. I’ve watched people swerve away from the shocking light and slam on their breaks due to the sudden distraction.

  • James

    There are going to be more rear-end collisions because concern for the cameras is going to make people more likely to slam on their brakes at yellow lights. These cameras are mostly about raising revenue. If they really want to reduce accidents they should make the green light flash before the yellow comes on, and make the yellow longer.

  • bob

    Reducing accidents? Please! 1.5 mil says it all. They’re out there grabbin’ with both hands now.

  • bob

    This is about revenue and less so about safety,


    Yes, you have it in a nutshell…..there BOB. 1.5 MILLION DOLLARS does say it ALL ! ! ! THE SUPPORTERS OF THESE LIGHTS ARE GREEDY, GREEDY CROOKS, AND B——- 1 ARE THEY NOT? ? ? ANOTHER “BOB” HERE.

  • elvisgal

    Come on, people, use your heads. Saying these cameras cause crashes is taking the onus off the irresponsible drivers who are involved in them. I, for one, recommend following traffic signals and laws to avoid such collisions rather than blaming an inanimate object for our failings. Do people make mistakes? Absolutely. It would seem I’m the only one on this forum that believes we should be held individually responsible for them. As far as the cameras being a revenue maker? Why not make money off of inconsiderate and ignorant people who are too busy texting or stuffing their faces with Big Macs to adhere to the rules of the road?

  • cristina

    i am from a city where the cameras are used. i was STUNNED when i moved to denver and saw how many people run red lights!!!! i don’t know if everyone is just that stupid, or in that much of a hurry. if you’re not running red lights, who cares about getting ticketed for it? DON”T RUN THROUGH RED LIGHTS YOU JERKS!

  • Robert

    The red light cameras cause crashes because if people know that the possibility of going through the intersection just a hair too late will get them a ticket, they won’t go through it. So instead of stopping on red, they will stop on yellow which will cause more accidents than before. Its been proven. Its also been proven that if you make the yellow light half a second longer the number of people getting ticket will reduce because of that extra half second as well as reducing the number of crashes.

    • Rob

      Were is the “proof” of your claim? Once people get used to longer yellow lights they will just push the envelope farther. If people were not intent on running red lights and following to closely then they would not get in rearend collisions at intersections. This is not a result fo the cameras it is a result of poor driving behavior.

      • kt99

        “Were is the “proof” of your claim? ”
        Um… In the article above…..

  • Jerry

    That is total BS , I’ve almost had 3 accidents because I’ve had to slam on my brakes to keep from being stuck in the intersection and getting a ticket.

    Once in a snow storm on NYE, I ended up sliding into the intersection any way because of ice. I was going 10 mph under the speed limit so don’t think it was because I was driving to fast for conditions. It might work if EVERYONE drove safely behind you but they DON”T!!! and the one at the intersection either gets a ticket or their rear end smashed.

  • Rob

    I think the penalties for running red lights and for rearending people at intersections should go up. I don’t mean monitarily, I mean in suspension of drivers license. If people are actually held accountable for bad driving behavior by losing thier priviledge to drive they may start driving more responsibly. Driving is a priviledge and driving responsibly should be the measure of being allowed that priviledge.

  • YeahB Mac

    I think people are missing the point here. The cameras arn’t causing the accidents. The cameras are making people stop like there supossed to. It’s the people talking/texting or putting on their make-up or plane not paying attention and following too close that are causing the accidents. I wish they could create a system to catch all the tailgaters.

  • lucy

    revenue maker. I know I have nearly gotten into accidents trying to avoid the camera. Either by tailing the car in front of me by inches if the light turns yellow and I am out in the intersection or slamming on my brakes the moment it turns yellow before I proceed through the intersection.

  • LM

    The City of Aurora’s communications posted this comment to explain why the city believes the red light camera program is beneficial. It seems odd, but it appears that comment has been removed, so I am attempting to repost it.

    Red Light Cameras Keep You Safe on the Road

    Your safety on the road is a priority for us. That’s why we’ve put into place a photo red light program designed to enhance public safety by reducing the chance for serious, sometimes catastrophic, accidents to occur.

    Photo red light cameras have a positive impact on the safety of drivers and their passengers. These cameras change driving behavior and hold individuals accountable for endangering the safety of others.

    In a recently released report, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) says red-light cameras reduced the rate of fatal red-light running by 24 percent from 2004 to 2008. The institute further reports that if the cameras been installed in all U.S. cities with populations greater than 200,000 residents, 815 deaths would have been prevented.

    A few studies have shown that in some situations there is an increase in rear-end accidents resulting from drivers who slam on their brakes once they realize there is a photo red light camera in the intersection, however, these types of accidents, typically are not as severe and harmful as the types of accidents that the cameras intend to reduce. Rear-end accidents are usually much less severe and catastrophic to people, while broadside accidents often cause more serious injuries and greater property damage.

    Keeping drivers safe is a key priority in Aurora. The photo red light program is just one simple way we work to keep you safe. If photo red lights save even one life in Aurora, that’s a program worth keeping. We think you’ll agree.

    To read the report issued by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety visit

  • Bill

    If you watch the videos that were shown on the news last night, you will see that cars are stopped at a red light and the car that causes the accident is actually coming from behind the cars that are stopped and is RUNNING the red light.

    The people against the cameras are the people who refuse to stop for red lights. It won’t matter if the yellow signal is 1 second long, 5 seconds long, or 10 seconds long. There will always be a group of drivers who believe that traffic laws do not pertain to them and they will run through an intersection regardless if the light is red or not.

    During drivers education we were taught that green means you can proceed through an intersection if it is safe, yellow means to prepare to stop and red means STOP. I believe that a similar statement is in the Colorado Drivers handbook that everyone who gets a drivers license must study and pass a test on.

    Yellow means prepare to stop – not to go faster to beat the red light.

    Red means Stop – not to go even faster to get through the intersection.

    Observe and follow the above and traffic accidents will decrease.

  • Rebel

    There is one reason and one reason only why the red light cameras are being installed – REVENUE. Almost everywhere these cameras are increasing the number of accidents and the number of injuries; however, as long as the money keep flowing into the the city’s coffers, the politicians and police will keep finding excuses to put more of them up. These $75.00 tickets are nothing more than BLOOD MONEY! The City Council members in Aurora, Ft. Collins, etc. are shameless and should be thrown out of office.

  • LK

    I have noticed that where the red light cameras are, the yellow light timing seems to go down. The length of the yellow light is calculated based on the speed limit to give people a reasonable amount of time to stop. Reducing the yellow light times increases the chance that you will have to slam the brakes to avoid going through the intersections, and thus increases the probability that someone will hit you from behind. Reducing the yellow lights also increases revenue.

    The companies that make these red light monitors sell the city on the idea of safety, but make the intersections less safe so that they can show revenue increases.

    • LindaC

      I have noticed the same thing at the new red light cameras on Hampden by River Point in SW Denver. The one thing that I think helps are the walk lights that count down how long you have before the light turns red. As soon as I see the countdown I know I only have 5 or 10 seconds before I have to stop.

  • Lori

    Don’t forget about hte restof the story. The companies that provide these cameras actually market to the cities and install them for free. They get a share of the profits. I heard that in one instance they were not getting the projected “tickets” so they decreased the yellow light cycle which increased the tickets…

  • mildmannered

    My ex-city, Bakersfield, has about a dozen red-light camera intersections but it doesn’t make any money. Here’s why, BPD spokesperson Sgt. DeGeare states that the city contracts to pay $38,356 per month per intersection. Do the arithmetic and realize that the city spends far more than it takes in. About a dozen California cities have outlawed the cameras.

  • Angered

    I had my first red light camera experience tonight and am very angered. With regard to the earlier comment “yellow means prepare to stop – not to go faster to beat the red light…” let’s be real! There is that one moment when a light in front of you changes from green to yellow, when you are ALMOST at/in an intersection. You must make a very quick decision about stopping based on speed (in my case and most. the legal speed limit) cars around you and their speed, the weather and more. Tonight I went through a yellow light AS IT TURNED YELLOW, with a flashing camera blinking brightly, quickly and very distractingly in my eyes. I looked up very briefly as I was in the intersection — still yellow — but I can tell you, if I get a ticket, I will for the first time in my life fight the ticket. This is horrible. I made the right call and will NOT willingly pay a price for doing so. Why do those cameras blink so violently the very moment green goes yellow? I was very startled, never having encountered this before. I say they are dangerous, distracting.

    • rich

      totally agree

  • Please

    They put a camera at a busy DTC intersection with a whopping 6 accidents per year, and how many of those were fatal or serious injuries? Is it really about safety and reducing crashes from 6 to 5 a year? Or is it about the extra 200k that camera pulled in?

    And to the “rule of law” types: Can we please go back to being adults in this country? Not every red light run is dangerous. How about the ridiculous red lights that last for minutes where there is little to no traffic? It’s the same with the moronic tickets for a rolling stop at stop signs. Yes, I’m capable of scanning traffic while going 5 mph! Can we please be adults again in this country!!!! My Mom got one of these tickets while daring the crazy urban traffic of….IOWA!

  • rich

    The idiot ahead of you, the first one at the light is talking on a cell phone or texting takes the entire light signal to make left turn. Who gets the fine? The poor person behind, stupid idiots hangup and drive

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