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Editorial: Red light cameras are not the solution

Let’s stipulate that after a rash of hit-and-run accidents in Buffalo, including three deaths, something needs to be done. And there are legitimate concerns about safety caused, in part, by people recklessly running red lights.

But red light cameras aren’t the solution. They sound good, in theory, but there is plenty of evidence that they are ineffective and, with real concerns that their purpose is to make money for the city, police and city administrators need to find better answers. Consider:

Several years ago, the Chicago Sun-Times reported about an audit that found no evidence to substantiate the city’s claim that red light cameras have either reduced accidents or were even installed at the most dangerous intersections.

In addition, USA Today previously cited a 2012 audit from St. Petersburg, Fla., showing that while the number of dangerous side-impact collisions at intersections decreased, rear-end accidents increased as drivers stopped short to avoid violations. That may count as some kind of net improvement, but in the end, it’s not a good trade.

What is more, the cameras have created so much controvery that some cities have eliminated them, including large ones like Houston and Los Angeles. In Minnesota, the state Supreme Court found that red light cameras in Minneapolis violated a car owner’s “presumption of innocence.”

They certainly bring in the dough. Even though the city would pay a private company to install and maintain the cameras, Mayor Byron W. Brown in 2011 projected the city would take in $500,000 in fines from their installation. Add into that concerns that the money grab would most greatly affect the poorest neighborhoods, and the plan should be a non-starter.

Still, the number of accidents and fatalities requires a serious response. It seems, at least anecdotally, that more and more people are treating the yellow light as reason to hit the accelerator rather than the brake pedal. But there are better options for enforcement.

For example, the city could increase patrols or otherwise improve policing at intersections known to be hazardous. It can re-engineer those crossings to improve safety. It can program traffic lights so the yellow signal lasts longer.

If it wants to identify hit-run drivers, it can install more of the general surveillance cameras Buffalo already has in place in certain areas.

Sometimes, what seems like the obvious answer is the right one, but it pays to be skeptical when the easy answer also puts money in someone’s pocket. This is one of those times.

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