Is San Diego safer without red light traffic cameras?

By Michael Pines, Accident & Injury Prevention Expert

Injury attorney for red light runner

Injury attorney for red light runner

A few columns ago, I discussed our city’s decision to eliminate its red light traffic camera program. Whether you appreciate or snub red light traffic cameras, the fact is that intersection photo enforcement is intended purely to save lives, with all other benefits being, for the most part, ancillary to its main purpose.

But due in part to negative public perception and a lack of beneficial evidence to support the continuation of program, Mayor Bob Filner ended red light camera enforcement in February.

“It just seemed to me that the hostility toward [the cameras] bred more disrespect for the law than respect for the law,” Filner said. He added, “Seems to me that such a program can only be justified if there are demonstrable facts that prove that they raise the safety awareness and decrease accidents in our city. The data, in fact, does not really prove it.”

But the issue is brought to light once again after a recent accident ( caused by red light runner at the intersections of Washington and South Mollison Avenues in El Cajon resulted in the needless and unfortunate death of a 36-year-old woman.

Residents have spoken out saying they believe the red light traffic cameras could have prevented the tragic accident.

According the report (,  red light traffic violators went up from 1,967 in February to April 2012 to 3,149 during the same months in 2013.


It’s an indisputable fact that red light cameras save lives. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, red light cameras were credited to having saved 159 lives from 2004-08 while also reducing the per capita rate of fatal red light running by 35 percent. Whether you love them or hate them, traffic cameras are implemented to reduce intersection-related car accidents while contributing to an overall safer community.

But despite the life-saving benefits of traffic light photo enforcement, San Diego eliminated the program as of Feb. 1, leaving some of the most highly-trafficked intersections at the mercy of driver discretion. Our city isn’t the only one to disparage red light cameras –Anaheim, Long Beach, Huntington Beach, Irvine, Redlands, and Loma Linda shunned the red light programs as well, citing problems that have ranged from financial struggles to lack of accidents where cameras were installed.

The so-called “data” on red light traffic cameras was at one time heralded by city officials.

In October 2011, City Councilwoman Marti Emerald drew praise for the red light camera program, saying it reduced red light-related car accidents by 50 percent while simultaneously reducing rear-end collisions by 11 percent in the city of San Diego.

Red light cameras are still receiving praise. “These cameras have actually been shown to improve safety,” Kathleen Ferrier, policy manager with Walk San Diego, told U-T San Diego. “There was no mention of the fact that these cameras have been proven to improve safety for all traffic users.”

The truth is that the lack of traffic cameras in San Diego today places an increased risk on drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians in our city. Without the use of cameras, red light patrol can be dangerous since a police officer must pursue the suspected offender through the red light, endangering themselves and other drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians on our city roadways. Manning red lights with police patrol would also cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars while reducing hours spent on other law enforcement tasks.

The bottom line is that red light running is a serious concern in the United States. The latest statistics say that red light running has killed 676 people while injuring an estimated 113,000 individuals in 2009 according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. And nearly two-thirds of all deaths incurred at a traffic light were people other than the red light offenders according to the IIHS.


As our city transitions away from red light traffic cameras, do your part to make our intersections safer by considering these 3 safety tips.

1. Eliminate Distractions

Distractions contribute to countless car accidents in San Diego on a daily basis including those incurred by red light running. Focus on the road ahead and don’t use cell phones, GPS, radio or other distractions when driving.

2. Stop Safely For Yellow Lights

Most yellow lights will transition to red in 3 seconds. Cross only when you cannot stop safely, and make sure to stop if you encounter a yellow light prior to engaging into the intersection — it’s California law.

3. Be Aware of Children

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in every five children between the ages of 5 and 9 who are killed in a traffic accident are also pedestrians. It goes without saying that children are especially vulnerable at intersections. Make sure to stay alert during before- and after-school hours as you approach intersections and crosswalks, and expect the unexpected when driving in residential areas.

About Michael Pines

Michael Pines is a personal injury attorney at the Law Offices of Michael Pines, APC in San Diego, California. He is an accident and injury prevention expert, on a campaign to end senseless injury one article at a time.

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  5. Vehicle technology: Are driverless cars an inevitable part of our future roadways?

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Posted by Social Media Staff on May 30, 2013. Filed under Columns, Michael Pines, Sponsored Columns. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

8 Comments for “Is San Diego safer without red light traffic cameras?”

  1. Robert

    This is a really nice one-sided argument. I like how your indisputable fact sites no source. I remember reading a study on longer yellow lights saving lives and reducing accidents. How about more time between red lights turning on and the perpendicular green light going on? I was really expecting a well written, thought through and researched article. My mistake I guess.

    • aloysious farquart

      Longer yellow intervals reward those who speed and/or accelerate for yellow signals and/or green signals perceived as “stale”.

      “Motorists” apply no strategies to safe operation, only to constantly varying tactics intended to shave a few seconds here or there (which are most often returned at future TCDs).

      “Drivers” have no concern for time, they know as long as it takes is as long as it takes, and “plan” accordingly.

      “The first thing we must recognize is that crashes are not accidents.”
      -Ricardo Martinez, M.D., NHTSA Administrator, 1997

    • aloysious farquart

      Your mistake was assuming you have the prerequisite knowledge to understand your subject… apparently even the self-evident parts, and you apparently feel writers should somehow predetermine your expectations before putting fingers to keyboards.

      There’s more RLC data out there than you can fit in your vehicle, and you apparently have read none of it.

      Traffic cameras are ubiquitous across Europe, have been for quite some time. If motorists don’t get their acts together instead of whining and crying about their particular motoring style being illegal, we’re going to have them in the US, too.

      The rapidity of change from “I got my license!” to “All the rules are stacked against me!” can only be measured by factors of the speed of light.

  2. Nancy

    Most people used to stop at College Avenue and College Grove Way when the red light cameras were in. Now they run the red on a regular basis and I have almost been t-boned there when I have the green light about once a week. I wish they would turn them back on. People who run red lights are a danger to others and they deserve a very expensive ticket. All they have to do is slow down and STOP when they are supposed to.

  3. Jim

    Nancy! If they do put the cameras back in, you still won’t be safe automatically hitting the gas when the light turns green. You’ll still need to be on the defensive, and you’ll still want to look both ways before accelerating. That’s because the business model of a red light camera is that violations MUST continue, so that the rent for the camera can be paid. To make your intersection fit the business model, they have left its defects unfixed. If you truly want a safer (but still not perfectly safe) intersection, pressure your city council to improve the markings at the intersection, to make it look more important. Paint signal ahead on the pavement. Put signal poles on the near side of the intersection. Put up larger (and lighted) street name signs. Keep up the maintenance on the paint on the crosswalks and limit lines. Take action! Call your councilperson, and then put it on your calendar to follow up after a month.

  4. Richard Boyd

    Red light cameras reduce crashes? Any confounding actions?

    Three seconds of yellow? Or one second for each OBSERVED ten miles per hour. Not posted speed, observed speed.

    Fewer cars on the road due to recession? Fewer teen age drivers due to reduced birth rates fifteen to twenty years ago? Fewer elderly drivers? Or eledery drivers are more alert now than the elederly drivers of ten years ago?

    More roundabouts?

    Better driver understanding of dilemma zone?

    Synchronized lights for progression with fewer reds?

    Dilemma zone is easier to recognize? E.G. road stripping. Precursor signal that light is red or about to change from green? Larger signal heads or flashing yellow as precursor to solid yellow?

    Michael Pines, Accident & Injury Prevention Expert? Base on education? Employment? Experience? Peer recognition? Legal training? Court room experience? Engineering know how?

  5. Facts:
    1) The IIHS is NOT an unbiased source on this issue. Their member insurance companies can surcharge the premiums of camera ticket recipients in some states, with surcharge amounts that far exceed the fines. Asking the IIHS about red light camera effects is like asking a fox how the hens enjoy his nightly visits that leave many of the hens maimed or dead.
    2) Safer, longer yellows reduce violations by 60% to 90% and the violations stay down over time, contrary to the false information from the camera industry.
    3) Three seconds is an OK time for yellow intervals for ACTUAL approach speeds of 28 mph or less. The use of 3.0 second yellows (federal minimum) in any location with 85th percentile approach speeds of 29 mph or more is a deliberate mis-engineering of the lights for camera ticket profits.
    4) Federal data shows only 0.4% of crashes are due to right on red turns and only 0.06% of crashes with injuries or fatalities involve right on red turns. So ticketing with cameras for slow rolling right on red turns is 99.6% to 99.94% about money, not safety.
    5) Red light cameras are for-profit business partnerships between for-profit camera companies and cities willing to issue most tickets to safe drivers with deliberately mis-engineered lights and/or deliberately predatory ticketing of safe drivers for right on red turns that almost never cause crashes.

    Red light cameras should be banned in every state, as they are in many. The temptation to ticket for profits is too strong for many governments to resist, and ticketing for profits is wrong 100% of the time.

    San Diego made the right decision to end the use of ticketing for profits.

    James C. Walker, Life Member-National Motorists Association

  6. rashed

    Even then, the Earth is a BIG place. A whole lot of it is no realtime interest – Alaskan tundra, Mojave Desert, etc.
    Another large part of may be of interest, but the interest so thinly scattered that it will be to hard to separate
    the meaningless from the relevant – think any rural area.
    So maybe the best defense is to move out of the cities.

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