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July 30, 2007
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More communities using traffic cameras to reduce collisions

By Lisa Ryckman
Rocky Mountain News
 

DENVER, Colo. At some busy metro intersections, green means "go" - and red seems to mean "go faster."

But it's a different story if drivers know they're going to get caught.

More than 150 communities in 21 states, including six in Colorado, either use or plan to install cameras at dangerous intersections, a measure that studies show puts the "stop" back into red lights and reduces traffic accidents and deaths.

Greenwood Village has been so happy with its two red light cameras that it recently persuaded the Colorado Department of Transportation to allow installation of one at University Boulevard and Belleview Avenue, which are state highways.

"People just blow through that light," said police Sgt. Patrick Cillo.

In Aurora, major collisions have dropped 60 percent at one of four intersections involved in a pilot program that produced 9,172 citations in 2006, Deputy City Manager Frank Ragan said. City officials plan to decide this summer whether to keep those cameras and possibly add more.

"I think it's been working quite well," Ragan says. "We might take a look at getting a more portable system that we can move around to different locations. Then we don't have people thinking, 'I'm not going to run this light, but at the next intersection, all limits are off.' "

A car ran a red light every 20 minutes at five busy corners in Fairfax, Va., a study found. Most urban vehicle collisions happen at intersections, and they're typically front-into-side accidents, which are the most deadly.

In 2005, national statistics show that more than 800 people were killed and 165,000 were injured in crashes that involved red light running.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety estimates that about half the deaths in such accidents are the other cars' occupants and pedestrians.

Hit-and-run accidents often involve red-light violations, such as the one in which a young family was mowed down as they crossed a Denver street last November. Witnesses said the driver ran two red lights before he struck and injured Frank Bingham and killed his wife, Becca, and their two children, Macie, 4, and Garrison, 2, in a downtown crosswalk.

Some research has shown an increase in rear-end collisions at intersections with cameras, caused by drivers hitting their brakes at the last minute. Other studies have shown no change or a reduction in fender-benders.

In Greenwood Village, they've seen a drop in all types of accidents, Cillo says.

In Aurora, serious accidents have plummeted at Mississippi Avenue and Chambers Road, and rear-enders haven't increased there, although they have risen at another intersection. Sudden braking is supposed to be kept to a minimum by state-mandated signs warning drivers that they're approaching a red light camera.

"The beauty is, even though rear- end collisions may have gone up, the most serious accidents appear to have gone down," Ragan says.

One study found that red light runners tend to be younger, less likely to use seat belts and three times more likely to have multiple speeding convictions than drivers who stopped for red lights. Still, more than half of Americans admit to having run a red light.

The cameras catch them all.

"Everybody, no matter who you are, if you run the light, you get your picture taken," says Cillo, who estimates that police get eight calls a day from indignant drivers. "You'd be surprised at the people who run red lights. It's quite the who's who."

Copyright 2007 Denver Publishing Company

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