It's been a few years since the General Assembly voted against a pilot program for red-light cameras in 10 Indiana cities, but the idea just won't die. Lafayette is the latest city to consider the cameras:
The Lafayette Police Department wants to have cameras installed at as many as ten intersections throughout the city. Sergeant Max Smith said after seeing the results from a 24 hour test camera at Kossuth and Main Streets, a "camera cop" is needed.
"There were some 8,500 cars that went through the intersection that day. We had 135 vehicles that were registered as showing that they violated the intersection by entering into the intersection against the red light," Smith said.
I've been following the studies of red-light cameras ever since the City Council here considered the idea, and the results are all over the map; whether you're for or against the cameras, you can find a study to bolster your case. Here's a report of studies from Philadelphia and Virginia Beach, for example, that say the cameras are very effective. But some studies say accidents actually increase at intersections with cameras. Considering all the studies, it seems fair to say that, maybe, the cameras decrease t-bone crashes but cause an increase in rear-end crashes. But the increase in rear-enders is smaller than the decrease in t-bones, which are the more dangerous collisions. So, on balance, there seems to be a marginal public-safety benefit.
But there's another effective way to reduce crashes, and it doesn't cost anything: Increase the duration of the yellow caution light. In some jurisdictions where the red-light cameras have been added, they've actually decreased the duration of the caution light. That means more people running the red lights, more people caught on camera, more citations, more revenue. One of the options being considered in Lafayette is a proposal from a company that would install the cameras at no charge to the city -- it would get part of the citation fees as its compensation. Bad idea -- that will add to the probability that the cameras will become more about revenue than safety.