Seattle's Red Light Cameras Making Streets Safer

"The red light cameras are a great low-cost investment to improve public safety. This information will be valuable as we look at the future of this impressive program."

by / July 19, 2007

Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels said today a one-year pilot "red light camera" program launched last June at high-traffic intersections appears to be making streets safer for drivers and pedestrians.

The red light cameras were installed at four intersections in the city last June to test the effectiveness of a technology that has been shown to reduce deadly "T-Bone" side-impact collisions in more than 100 cities worldwide. The technology was also expected to make it safer for pedestrians to cross these busy streets.

A year later, staff evaluating the program found the frequency of red light running has generally dropped by one-third at the intersections where cameras have been installed. Violations dropped to a low point during winter months, before rebounding slightly this spring, though not to levels initially seen. Staff will continue monitoring data to see how seasonality affects compliance. The overall number of accidents at these intersections remained about the same, but the severity of collisions appears to have diminished.

"It looks like the traffic safety cameras are doing what they were intended to do," Nickels said. "I'm encouraged by these results and the program in general. There is no excuse for running a red light. An instant of recklessness or neglect can take a life or seriously injure a pedestrian or another driver."

"Reducing red light violations by one-third is a huge improvement and will likely reduce injuries and fatal accidents in the long run," said Councilmember Tom Rasmussen. "The red light cameras are a great low-cost investment to improve public safety. This information will be valuable as we look at the future of this impressive program."

"Red light cameras are showing themselves to be an important tool to reduce injury accidents at dangerous intersections and enhance pedestrian safety at the same time," Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske said.

Staff found the public, in general, has responded favorably to this initiative.

The budget for the one-year project is $460,000 and 11 months into the project, the city had spent only $320,000. As a result, the city expects to support the existing cameras into December, six months longer than anticipated.

By the end of the first 11 months, citations generated by the cameras totaled $900,000. Drivers pay a $101 for each infraction. Through May 2007, nearly 14,000 citations have been issued, with a pay rate exceeding 70 percent. While the program appears to be paying for itself, public safety is the primary reason for the program.

All together, six camera systems are operating at four intersections in the pilot project. The Seattle Police Department and the city's Department of Transportation selected the four intersections for the pilot program, based on traffic safety.

Using sensors at these intersections, the digital cameras photograph the license plates of cars running a red light. A Seattle police officer reviews each violation and, if approved, a $101 citation is mailed to the vehicle's registered owner. The stepped-up enforcement encourages drivers to be more careful when passing through the intersections.

A study by the Federal Highway Administration showed red light cameras had a significant effect in reducing dangerous accidents. Vehicles running red lights typically increase speed and can cause high-speed, side-door collisions resulting in serious injury and death.

More than 100 communities in California, Maryland, North Carolina, and Virginia have installed red light cameras. Lakewood was the first city in Washington to use the cameras. The state legislature authorized statewide use of red light cameras in 2005.