How effective are Edmonton’s red-light cameras?

Watch above: City of Edmonton staff say red-light cameras have contributed to a decline in injuries and deaths, but critics say the data is inconclusive at best. Eric Szeto reports.

EDMONTON – Red-light cameras are supposed to make our roads safer. But do they?

The City of Edmonton’s program started in late 2009, and since 2011, there have been 50 cameras monitoring 28 intersections around the city.

According to information obtained and analyzed by Global News, red-light camera infractions have gone up by more than 50 per cent from 2011 to 2013. Intersection collisions are up by 10 per cent – from 12,412 to 13,672.

“We’re having an increase in people running red lights and that concerns me,” said Bev Esslinger, Ward 2 councillor. “How much of this is driver behaviour? And do we have to change our mindset in Edmonton?”

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Officials with the City of Edmonton argue red-light cameras have led to a drop in most serious collisions that cause injuries or deaths.

But, according to information from the city’s Motor Vehicle Collisions 2013 report, injuries from collisions began to decline, for the most part, before the first cameras were installed in 2009. Fatal collisions are down, but only slightly, according to the 15-year median.

*You can view a list of collision statistics below.

Edmonton intersections with red-light cameras. Global News

Critics say the data for red-light camera safety is inconclusive at best.

Matt Florell, president and CEO of Fextel who is a Florida resident, studied hundreds of intersections in dozens of jurisdictions in North America.

He determined crashes increased after red-light cameras were installed. Florell said it appeared more people were getting into fender benders – slamming on the brakes where red-light cameras were installed.

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Florell did notice a decline in fatal crashes in areas with cameras. But he noted the same thing happened in 26 U.S. states that didn’t have them.

“There was no clear and obvious safety increase from using these,” he said.

“Some studies showed safety increased at the same time after cameras installed. Some of them didn’t.”

Based on his study, councillors in St. Petersburg, Florida dropped red-light cameras altogether in October.

In recent years, several U.S. cities and states have taken them out. More states, municipalities and states are considering similar measures.

The City of Edmonton’s office of traffic safety says there are no plans to remove the cameras.

According to Gerry Shimko, trends in the U.S. run counter to best practice, especially in many European countries.

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He believes there might be an up-tick in intersection collisions and tickets because of the city’s growing population.

“We’re generating 40 per cent of the economic activity in the country,” said Shimko. “And you have to put those numbers into context: is that volume what’s causing this particular aspect?” asks Shimko. “Once you do the statistical work, there is a relation.”

Shimko says plans are in the works to improve intersection safety by adding more signals and more prominent signs.

The city hopes to have a comprehensive study on red-light cameras and photo radar by early 2015.

Traffic safety aside, there’s another reason to keep the cameras around: revenue.

The city has taken in close to $14 million from red-light runners since the program started in 2009.

The top five red-light camera intersections in Edmonton. Global News
The top five red-light camera intersections in Edmonton. Global News
The top five red-light camera intersections in Edmonton. Global News
The top five red-light camera intersections in Edmonton. Global News
The top five red-light camera intersections in Edmonton. Global News

Injury Collisions:

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2003:  6,352

2004:  5,530

2005:  5,847

2006:  6,067

2007:  5,482

2008:  4,730

2009:  3,962

2010:  3,767

2011:  3,482

2012:  3,363

2013:  3,223

Fatal collisions: 

1999:  11

2000:  19

2001:  24

2002:  20

2003:  29

2004:  34

2005:  26

2006:  25

2007:  31

2008:  28

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2009:  29

2010:  24

2011:  22

2012:  26

2013:  23

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