Police officers can't monitor every intersection at every hour of the day and night. In many cities, red light cameras serve as a 24-hour enforcement system, capturing violations and sending out citations.
These cameras have long been controversial for a number of reasons. The Los Angeles Police Department no longer uses them. Among jurisdictions that do use them, it's questionable whether they fulfill the purpose they're supposed to serve - to improve safety for drivers, pedestrians and cyclists alike.
Report shows no impact on accident rates
According to a report from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, red light cameras haven't reduced the number of accidents at heavily trafficked intersections. However, other measures - such as making traffic signals more visible and lengthening the duration of yellow lights - did have a positive impact on accident rates.
Other measures may be more useful
There's no question that intersections are problematic when it comes to collision risks. Roughly 40 percent of all accidents take place at intersections, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Yet there are other ways to make them safer. For example, the Federal Highway Administration recommends:
- Restricting red light turns
- Adding crosswalks and pedestrian signals
- Relocating signals to improve visibility
- Adding overhead signals
- Installing speed sensors
- Adding turn lanes
- Implementing no-parking zones near approaches to dangerous intersections
- Redesigning problematic intersections
- Lowering speed limits
Far too many people are injured or killed at intersections. As the San Francisco report illustrates, in the unending quest to reduce accidents, there is no simple answer.