Red-light cameras at intersections have stirred controversy for more than a decade. Cynics argue the cameras are just cash cows intended primarily to swell municipalities' coffers.
Some U.S. cities buckled to the pressure and turned off their cameras. Communities with cameras fell from 533 in 2012 to 467 in 2015.
But now, a new study by the nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) shows that between 1992 and 2014 there were 21% fewer fatal red-light-running crashes in cities with cameras, and 14% fewer fatal crashes of any kind at red-light intersections.
That suggests the presence of cameras causes motorists to drive more cautiously in general at intersections. IIHS says that translates to 1,296 lives saved by red-light cameras.
In cities that terminated their cameras, the fatal crash rate was 30% higher than it would have been had the cameras remained in use.
I'm already a safe driver, but I grew wary at certain intersections once I learned they had a red-light camera. After dark in the winter, I sometimes was startled by bright flashes while stopped at the junction of 148th and Bel-Red Road. Once I figured out those flashes were from a camera shooting transgressors, I approached that intersection with extra caution.