NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


July 8, 2004

Local governments all across the country are falling victim to the siren song of surveillance cameras to raise cash from lead-footed motorists. Two new studies, however, raise serious questions about not only the usefulness, but the safety, of installing and using surveillance cameras to enforce traffic regulations, says Bob Barr, a former Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Georgia.

The first study, by North Carolina A&T State University's Transportation Institute, concluded that the 18 red light cameras in use on Greensboro thoroughfares may very well cause more accidents rather than prevent them.

  • According to the study, the number of wrecks in Greensboro is decreasing, but their incidence at intersections with surveillance cameras is increasing.
  • The report concludes that at a minimum, "there is no evidence" the red light cameras decrease accidents; but, of course, they bring in revenue.

The other recent study analyzed the impact of speed cameras in London, England, and found that over hundreds of locations at which the surveillance devices were employed, the number of accidents had increased rather than decreased. At many other sites studied, accident rates remained the same.

  • As with their U.S. counterparts, London officials reap huge financial rewards from utilizing the cameras -- a 20 percent annual profit after deducting installation and processing costs.
  • The London study found the prevalence of the traffic surveillance cameras was actually deadly, with nearly 400 of the camera sites registering an increase in people killed or seriously injured after the cameras were installed.

Studies by the British government extol the virtues of the traffic cameras and, since the decision to keep the cameras in place rests with the same local officials who receive revenue from the devices, a decrease in cameras is unlikely, says Barr.

Source: Bob Barr, "Rethinking red-light cameras," Washington Times, July 8, 2004, and Mark L. Burkey and Kofi Obeng, "A Detailed Investigation of Crash Risk Reduction Resulting From Red Light Cameras in Small Urban Areas," North Carolina A&T State University, September 2003.


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