Are red light cameras intended to increase safety at intersections or simply raise revenue for municipalities? Probably both. There is evidence that the lights increase safety. According to the City of Columbus, after its first red-light camera was installed in 2006, one particular intersection saw a 74% decrease in accidents between 2005 and 2008.
Arguments for and against can be found in this PBS story.
While a “photo enforced” sign at an intersection certainly gets my attention, there is a due process concern where a red light camera snaps a photo or video clip of the traffic infraction. Ohio’s legislature has reacted, and Governor John Kasich signed a bill requiring a police officer to be present at photo enforced intersections. The new law rightly recognizes the due process need to have a witness be able to testify regarding a traffic violation. In doing so, the law also exponentially increased the budget to operate a photo enforced intersection, what the cities dub a “practical ban” on cameras.
It didn't take long for the cut in revenue to get the cities' attention. Many large municipalities have responded, alleging that the law "infringes on cities’ police powers" and their constitutional home-rule authority. The City of Columbus sued the State of Ohio in March, challenging the law and seeking an injunction permitting the City to continue operating the lights. The City of Toledo has taken similar action and the Lucas County Court of Common Pleas has ruled that the red light cameras can continue running.
The cameras are a dependable revenue source for the cities, and despite a law designed to protect the due process rights of the individual traveling through the intersection, the cities intend to keep the cameras rolling and the fines coming. You can judge for yourself the answer to my initial question. I will be keeping my eye on this issue and provide more commentary as the lawsuits develop.
Until it’s resolved, it is wise to heed the cities’ “exercise of police powers” with their video cameras.