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Traffic safety cameras prevent crashes, reduce financial, emotional toll on communities

    Traffic collisions kill tens of thousands of people and injure millions more every year in the United States. These tragic events lead to substantial financial costs for the victims’ loved ones who are already burdened with emotional loss and the businesses, governments and insurers that make up the larger community.
IBJ Apr14 Page 10 Image 0001Wandall    The economic impact of an injury or fatal crash cannot compare to the human grief involved. However it is useful in measuring how one tragedy affects an entire community on the financial level. Used by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the societal perspective provides the best measure of the economic impact from traffic crashes because it captures the full scope of costs – to victims, families, government, insurers and taxpayers.
    Over the last seven years, the total cost of a fatal traffic collision has been on the rise. Following an 87% increase from $3.2 million in 2005 to $6 million in 2009, the cost of just one crash continued to climb, reaching an estimated $6.4 million in 2012. When adjusted for inflation, this results in a 100 percent increase from 2005.
    Injury crash costs follow the same upward trend. The community’s cost of an injury crash rose 85 percent from $68,170 in 2005 to $126,000 in 2009. With inflation factored in, the cost climbed to $134,555 in 2012, a 97 percent increase from 2005.
    Based on the most recent crash data available, in 2010:
    - There were 2.24 million injury crashes with a total cost of $286 billion to communities.
    - Each day, traffic crashes injured 6,136 people on average and cost communities $785 million.
    - 32,885 traffic fatalities were reported for a societal cost of $200 billion.
    On average, 90 traffic fatalities occurred each day, at a daily cost of $548 million.
    And these increased societal costs only begin to illustrate the financial toll that dangerous driving has on American communities. The emotional costs are even greater. Red-light running and speeding, in particular, have a horrendous impact on those who are involved in the collisions, but they also greatly impact families, friends and entire communities. My husband, Mark Wandall, was killed by a motorist who sped through a red light. Due to this dangerous driving decision, my husband was taken from me when I was nine months pregnant and my daughter has never known her father. My daughter and I will forever feel Mark’s absence in our lives – as will the families and friends of other victims.
    Fortunately, the number of fatal and injury collisions are on the decline. Financial and emotional costs would have been much higher had fatal crashes not declined 24 percent from 2005 to 2010, or had injury crashes not decreased 17 percent over the same time period. AAA attributes the decline in crashes in part to additional safety measures taken by states, regions and localities.
    Red-light and speed safety cameras are technologies among those safety measures that have helped to improve road safety. In the past decade, hundreds of communities have reduced crashes through the use of red-light safety cameras alone. As the number of communities using cameras grew from 25 in 2000 to 540 in 2012, cities experienced a 25.5 percent decrease in fatalities related to red-light running.
    According to research conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the rate of fatal red-light running collisions was 24 percent lower in cities with safety cameras – from 2004 to 2008 – than it would have been without the cameras. IIHS determined that if safety cameras were operating in all major U.S. cities during the same time period, more than 800 lives could have been saved.  A 2011 study, conducted by the Texas Transportation Institute, found intersections with red-light safety cameras witnessed a 32 percent reduction in right-angle crashes and a 25 percent decrease in red-light running related crashes.
    Speed safety cameras are also effective in making roadways safer by slowing drivers down. Average speeds fell 9 mph while speed cameras were in place on a busy urban freeway in Scottsdale, Arizona. A seemingly insignificant 1 percent reduction in the average free-flow speed on a road system will yield a 4 percent reduction in traffic accident fatalities. In other words, a 1 mph reduction would save 1,100 lives annually. Speeding now causes more roadway fatalities than drunk driving, making it the leading cause of motor vehicle related deaths.
    If red-light and speed safety cameras contribute a combined 25 percent reduction in fatalities alone, the impact on the insurance industry as a whole would be significant:
    - A  25 percent reduction in the 10,395 speed-related deaths in 2010 would save 2,598 lives and $7.92 -billion in insurer expenses
    - A similar reduction to the 673 people killed in red-light running crashes in 2010 would save 169 lives and $515 million in expenses to insurers
    - An estimated 122,000 people were injured in red-light running crashes in 2010. A 25 percent reduction would prevent 30,500 people from injuries and save insurers $1.95 billion
    There are a number of financial and safety arguments to be made in favor of red-light and speed safety cameras, and many of them are enumerated above, but the lives and families saved by this incredible technology are paramount. As someone who has suffered the real and human consequences of another person’s decision to run a red light, I can say with certainty that the number of lives saved by safety camera technology is the most important argument that these cameras are working. I encourage support in Illinois for Rep. Jay Hoffman’s speed camera bill that would allow more communities throughout the state to utilize this life-saving technology.
    Melissa Wandall is president of the National Coalition for Safer Roads.