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Originally published Tuesday, December 30, 2014 at 5:08 PM

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Editorial: Traffic cameras have proved to save lives

Traffic cameras are no cure-all, but they can help lower collision rates.

Seattle Times Editorial

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You cannot do a simple before and after data comparison. You have to use reversion to the mean analysis and compare to... MORE
Fines and fees, that is the primary motivation for additional traffic cameras. MORE
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WHILE Auburn recently abandoned its red-light cameras, Seattle has found some success with its own cameras — both in reducing accidents and generating revenue.

In the eight years since red-light cameras were introduced in Seattle, collisions have declined in 17 of the 20 red-light camera intersections from comparable periods before and after their installations, according to police figures. The cameras, which photograph drivers who run red lights, have generated more than 263,000 citations and more than $24 million in revenue.

In Washington, 23 municipalities use red-light or speeding cameras, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Nationwide, 469 communities have red-light camera programs, and 137 use speeding cameras. Speeding cameras snap photos of drivers who exceed the speed limit.

Still, traffic cameras are no cure-all.

Auburn dumped its 8-year-old program last month after finding that fewer drivers were being ticketed after the cameras were installed. Though drivers were changing their behavior, the cameras had no recognizable effect on collisions.

The devices have been controversial in other parts of the country. Just this month, some of the most populous states and metro areas have rejected traffic cameras.

Missouri, New Jersey, Ohio, the District of Columbia, and parts of New York and Illinois have either gutted traffic-camera programs, abandoned them or are considering doing so.

Some communities squandered early public support for the programs with poor implementation. Traffic cameras also run into trouble when voters start seeing them more as solutions for government budget problems than for public safety.

Still, traffic camera advocates argue that the programs are effective and save lives.

A 2011 Insurance Institute for Highway Safety nationwide study found the devices reduced the rate of fatal red-light crashes by 24 percent and all fatal crashes at traffic signal intersections by 17 percent.

Bellevue has seen a benefit. The number of speeding and red-light camera infractions decreased from 22,798 in 2010 to 11,956 in 2013, according to police.

Consequently, the city is adding three more red-light cameras to its three-camera program Jan. 1, and an additional school-zone speed camera to the two already online later in the month.

Seattle’s and Bellevue’s examples show that when implemented responsibly and when residents are kept informed, traffic cameras can be a useful tool for keeping streets safe.

Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Mark Higgins, Jonathan Martin, Thanh Tan, Blanca Torres, Robert J. Vickers, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).

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