Red Light Cameras By Stephen Bainbridge

by John Hawkins | April 11, 2005 3:21 am

News that Virginia has banned the use of red light cameras[1] reminded me of the minor stir kicked up a couple of years ago when my friend and colleague Eugene Volokh surprised his fellow libertarians by defending their use (see his op-ed[2] and blog post[3]). In contrast, I hate the d@mn things, but I figured they at least save lives and property. According to the report on Virginia’s action, however, they don’t:

Virginia’s decision was prompted in large measure by a state Department of Transporation study[4] study showing an overall increase in injury accidents where red light cameras were used. Similar findings have appeared in studies from North Carolina[5]; Ontario, Canada[6] and Australia[7].

This seems counter-intuitive doesn’t it? After all, shouldn’t red light cameras reduce accidents by discouraging red light bandits? According to the linked studies, however, it turns out that any such effect is more than off-set by a dramatic increase in rear-end collisions. Apparently people approaching a camera-enforced intersection as the light changes tend to slam on their brakes to the surprise of the driver behind them.

The law of unintended consequences once again rears it ugly head and bites safety regulators in the @ss. (So to speak.)

This content was used with the permission of Stephen Bainbridge of ProfessorBainbridge. You can read more of his work by clicking here[8].

  1. Virginia has banned the use of red light cameras:
  2. op-ed:
  3. blog post:
  4. Department of Transporation study:
  5. North Carolina:
  6. Ontario, Canada:
  7. Australia:
  8. here:

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