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Do Cameras Make Intersections More Dangerous?

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Do Cameras Make Intersections More Dangerous?

Map: Frequency Of Accidents At Intersections With Red-Light Cameras

LOS ANGELES (CBS) ― Videos, provided to us by companies that sell red-light camera systems, show gruesome accidents and red light violators caught on tape. It is images like these that sell cities on the use of red light cameras.

The pitch is that these cameras will increase safety and reduce accidents. Also, the cities will make some money on the side at more than $400 a ticket!

In Los Angeles the LAPD claims accidents are down after they installed cameras, but are they telling the whole truth or just trying to make money off motorists?

We crunched the numbers and the results may surprise you.

"Your data is shocking to me," Sherman Ellison said.

Ellison is a ticket attorney and part time judge, who believes the cameras are there for one reason.

"No question. Purely a revenue generating device," Ellison said.

Is it money or safety? We wanted to know actual numbers of accidents at red light camera intersections to see if they really went down.

When we asked, the LAPD became very defensive. The sergeant in charge told me in an e-mail, "The city would hope that it is the goal of KCBS/KCAL to discuss the positive aspects of the photo red light program."

So we filed a public records request. The department charged us more than $500 for a computer run. When we got the numbers back, they told a different story.

We looked at every accident at every red light camera intersection for six months of data before the cameras were installed and six months after.

The final figures? Twenty of the 32 intersections show accidents up after the cameras were installed! Three remained the same and only nine intersections showed accidents decreasing.

At Manchester Avenue and Figueroa Street, accidents more than tripled from five before the cameras were installed to 16 afterwards. Westwood Boulevard and Wilshire Boulevard tripled from three to nine. At Rodeo Road and La Brea Avenue, collisions nearly tripled from seven in the six months before the cameras were installed to 20 in the same period afterwards.

The reason?

"People see the light flash and they slam on their brakes," Ellison said. "That's just human nature. As a result, more accidents, more rear end accidents."

That's what happened to Dale Stephens, who knew the yellow light up ahead had a camera.

"Because I had that in the back of my mind I knew I had to stop. And it's so expensive to get a ticket I knew I had to stop. Well they had no inclination to stop," Stephens said.

"They" are the two cars that hit him from behind.

David Goldstein: "Do you think the red light camera caused the accident?"

Dale Stephens:
"Yes, definitely."

He's not alone. Study after study show that red-light cameras can actually cause accidents and some cities are taking notice.

Montclaire, Upland, El Monte and Fullerton all discontinued red-light cameras in part because of accidents. Huntington Beach broke its contract before it even officially began.

"There are quite a few studies out there that will show an increase in rear end accidents in these intersections," a spokesperson from the Huntington Beach Police said.

David Goldstein: "And that wasn't acceptable?"

"No, not as part of the total package."

"The use of red light cameras actually put the public at a greater risk," said University of South Florida professor, Dr. John Large.

Dr. Large looked at all the studies and came to one conclusion.

"Our opinion is that there is quite a lot of money to be made with the use of these cameras," Dr. John Large said.

Los Angeles made over $4 million in 2008 on violators caught on red light cameras.

But the LAPD says it is safety, not money. They say accidents are down. They showed me statistics putting the drop at nearly 34 percent.

But they only count collisions caused by someone going through the red light, not by rear end accidents or any others at an intersection.

"It would be improper to draw a correlation between all accidents going up and the red light cameras," a spokesperson from the LAPD said.

"We need the overall picture," Los Angeles Councilman Dennis Zine said.

Councilman Zine says all accidents should be evaluated. He had been told accidents were down due to the cameras and didn't know the LAPD was excluding many collisions until I told him.

"If that's the case, we need to re-evaluate this program if in fact we are having more collisions," Councilman Zine said.

He says he will take the issue to the City Council because the contract for the cameras is up soon. And if they conclude, as we did, that accidents are up, the red light cameras may soon be coming down.

Map: Frequency Of Accidents At Intersections With Red-Light Cameras

(© MMX, CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.)

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