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When Good Intentions Go Bad: Traffic Cameras Trigger Rear-End Collisions

In an effort to thwart would-be red-light-runners, the city of West Palm Beach installed traffic light cameras and began handing out fines in February. At first the program seemed like a success as the city collected $10,000 in busting a number of drivers. But nine months later, the city is reporting some mixed results.

Since the city began its crackdown, injuries have increased fivefold from accidents at the city's four camera intersections compared to just one year ago.  Now city officials are rethinking the cameras.  The Sun Sentinel reports:

West Palm Beach Mayor Lois Frankel, who once got a ticket for rolling right on red — which is now less rigidly enforced — said she is willing to support cameras if they can be shown to enhance safety. At the same time, she expressed concern that the cameras can create the impression of "gotcha" government.

"I do not believe it should be a cash cow for the city," Frankel said. "I personally don't like the cameras."

Police Chief Delsa Bush, however, said she would not recommend removing the cameras: "I do not believe that they have been in use long enough to comprehensively evaluate the effect that they have on red-light running in specific, and overall public safety in general."

Bush noted that the cameras show indications of playing a helpful role in tracking suspects in crimes and said the city is exploring enhancing them with license plate readers that capture all plate numbers automatically.

In West Palm Beach, overall accidents at the camera intersections decreased to 26 compared with 38 a year earlier, and damage cited in police reports fell below $96,000 from more than $113,000. But rear-end collisions climbed almost 30 percent to 17 from 13, and recorded injuries rose. ...

Rear-end collisions sometimes have increased under cameras in other states such as Virginia as drivers may be more likely to stop abruptly, though no police reports in West Palm Beach said drivers blamed red-light cameras for accidents.

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