Study Finds No Benefit To Chicago Red Light Cameras


Accidents in Chicago fell between 2001 and 2008. In contrast, accidents at intersections with RLCs in our study actually increased. This result throws doubt on the city?s claims of significant accident reductions because of RLCs.

The data also shows that the share of accidents at traffic signals has stayed roughly constant. This suggests red light cameras are not reducing accidents throughout the city. If anything, the red light cameras are changing the dynamics of accidents, leading to a lower share of angle type crashes at traffic signals. There is also the possibility that the RLCs are leading to a larger share of rear end accidents at traffic intersections.

This data raises more questions than it answers. The goal was not to do a comprehensive study of RLCs, but only to ask whether the benefits of RLCs are obvious. A more comprehensive study would include control groups. In sum, our findings show that RLCs have, at best, a marginal positive impact on accidents. It?s clear that the benefits claimed by the city are hyperbole and that there is no evidence that the RLC have had a significant safety benefit.

The full report:


Red light cameras are not about safety and all about the money.


Politicians will always tell us that they’re doing something to help us when they find a new way to enhance a revenue stream. Yeah, RLCs are about revenue. I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a nonpolitician who believes otherwise.

Thanks for the link.

Most “everything’s” about the money in local politics. But at least if I’m in the neighborhood I can kid myself with the thought that maybe the burden of revenue collection has shifted more toward people who violate traffic laws.

Yes, but many well documented RLC installations resulted in lower than expected “revenues”. What did they do, you may ask? Well, they SHORTENED the yellow light time to CREATE traffic “law” violators! If cities were serious about reducing red light accidents they would just ADD ONE SECOND to the yellow light. A no cost solution that has real and measurable safety results (but adds no money to the city’s coffers).


Your point is well made Dag.

Is a person who got suckered into being a half a second late (or early) on a red light really a “traffic law violator”?

The correct question to ask is "Do they really pose a danger to anyone or do they impede the flow of traffic?"
I believe the answer to that to be “no.”

I have no issue with that language revision.

The study is not conclusive. Why not just say I dont know? At really high traffic points and low ticket enforcement levels I am not surprised. If I really do not get called to court or pay $75 per ticket then you do not teach drivers anything but frustration.
Put a cop there or seven and really nail everyone and hold up traffic one or two days a week every week for six months and that might stop a bad intersection. The issue is to teach the drivers. If you have 35000 drivers a day and ticket 15 each day with a $50 ticket in the mail this will take forever. Write 250 tickets a day taking 10 min on average and tying up a lane of traffic for six months then you will see results.

The law says do not proceed on red. Too bad because we have yellow to warn you. Just pay up if you ignored the yellow and got caught. Yellow does not mean run like hell the red is coming. How does ANYONE get suckered into a red violation?

Just a point I have been struck and injured while crossing a street with a walk sign clearly illuminated. By a driver who thought that running a red light was ok. The street was busy and all the traffic except this bozo followed the rules. We have rules and lights for safety. You break those rules shutup and pay. This guy who hit me got off easy. It could have been vehicular homocide.

The way you get suckered is when the powers that be set the time for the yellow shorter than normal and with no prior announcement that things are changing.

Anyway here in AZ the ticket must be served by a police officer, tickets that come by mail are not valid notices to appear in court. Now they always could send someone out to serve you.

One major group that complains about red light camera are the merchents that occupy the store fronts at the intersection. When people get a ticket at an intersection the business owner finds out that customers won’t be returning to this intersection, this causes the business to complain to the city. Cameras soon go away, they never should be used as revenue generators anyway.

Were you paying attention to the traffic and did you make sure all cars were stopped before crossing the street? I see too many pedestrians texting, talking on cell phones and not paying attention to traffic when crossing streets. Darwin at its best.


I agree – put properly trained police at intersections and have them issue tickets to offenders. But do not use automatic ticket machines (ATMs).


When urban freeways where I live were relatively new in the mid to late 1960s, there were a lot of mild rear end collisions that occurred during stop and go rush hour congested freeway traffic. This is rare now as drivers have learned to pay attention if they want to follow too closely.

It appears that a similar learning process will need to take place due to red light cameras.

I am in favor of red light cameras as I have seen what undisciplined drivers will do.

Those cameras are nothing more than revenue generators no matter what the people at city hall say. If the powers that be were really concerned with motorist safety they would send out a fleet of unmarked cop cars and nail the idiots who dart in and out of traffic, never even hesitate at yield signs, etc.

An interesting thing about traffic tickets in the smaller city near where I live. (about 50k people) The east side is predominantly low income and the west is higher income.
The local paper publishes a daily record of all tickets issued and a few years ago I got to perusing those citations on a daily basis just to see where the offenders lived as the home addresses are given.

After reading the citations day in and day out it appears that approx. 90% of the tickets issued are given to people who live on the east side or who are from out of town.

They have mentioned installing a few traffic cameras on the east side where the traffic is comparatively sparse.
One would think in the interest of saving lives they would crack down on the west side where the traffic is heavier (20X heavier) and which has by far the most accident-prone intersections.

Apparently the city is amassing revenue on the backs of those who can’t afford to fight the issue or who are from out of town and won’t come back to argue the point.

If you live on the east side of your town, you can supplement your income by learning to drive correctly which would include proper negotiation of intersections with stoplights.

There are not enough cops in the country to cover all the stuff that goes on in traffic.

"The data also shows that the share of accidents at traffic signals has stayed roughly constant. This suggests red light cameras are not reducing accidents throughout the city. If anything, the red light cameras are changing the dynamics of accidents, leading to a lower share of angle type crashes at traffic signals. There is also the possibility that the RLCs are leading to a larger share of rear end accidents at traffic intersections. "

I think this statement may indicate an accurate shift in traffic accidents from violation induced to generally poor driving habits (following too close). As most point out in this and other debates, it takes time to sort out effectiveness of this and other traffic accident preventative measures and short term studies create as much confusion as they answer questions.

The money factor always enters in and just having a marked car visible to everyone at a stop sign may induce the same study results. How much does that trained officer at every corner comparably cost ? RCLs attempt to address the cost factor in effective law enforcement.

If we ultimately find it is not cost effective and not helpful, so be it. Personally, I haven’t been convinced either way, but do support these “trial” attempts; but personally believe that’s all they are.

But make no mistake; the greatest influence I feel in the effectiveness in “crime” (and violation induced accidents) prevention is the assurance of getting caught.

I don’t even live in that city anymore and haven’t for 25 years. Are you saying that the more well off people on the west side should be given a free pass as to traffic violations?

So why do you think more tickets are not issued on the west side which has the bulk of the businesses, new home additions, and a far, far heavier proportion of traffic?

If this is about public safety and saving lives then does that only apply to one side of town?

I don’t remember for sure but I think that it was Lubbock, TX that got hammered by the Feds a few years ago for blatant revenue generation from light cameras when they started short-changing the yellow.

South Carolina comes to its senses:


As any pharmaceutical researcher can tell you, you can’t base anything on a single study. You need to do a series of studies to make sure none of them are biased and to test hypotheses in different conditions.

If there is ever a broad consensus of study results, I may be convinced. For now, we are getting mixed results from these studies. Some say the cameras work, and some say they don’t, and some say it is a mix.