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Carlos Sun  (Source: engineering.missouri.edu)
While the system has potential to be abused, Carlos Sun believes the benefits outweigh the potential disadvantages

There's a lot of controversy surrounding the use of red light cameras. Many drivers believe the system is used just to generate revenue, and has the potential to be abused. On the other hand, there are also red light camera advocates. But even advocacy can be abused, as American Traffic Solutions business executive Bill Kroske learned after being suspended for trolling internet sites to promote his company's red light camera products.

All abuse aside, a new study from the University of Missouri has found that red light cameras do prevent injuries and accidents, making them a valuable tool for road safety.

Carlos Sun, study leader and an associate professor of civil engineering in the University of Missouri College of Engineering, has researched a collection of studies that provide red light camera statistics and information, and found that red light cameras can do more good than harm.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, running red lights accounts for 883 fatalities and 165,000 injuries annually, and that one-third of all traffic fatalities involves speeding.

But Sun has found that red light cameras are cutting these numbers down, and that the devices are creating a "spillover effect," meaning that drivers are not only abiding by traffic laws at lights with cameras, but are also beginning to do the same with lights that do not have cameras. 

"A red light camera is not a panacea for traffic problems; it is a very effective tool for safe and efficient transportation," said Sun. "Just like any other tool, it should be used responsibly in the proper situation. The decision to use automated traffic enforcement tools requires a balancing act, but we shouldn't take away an effective tool just because of the potential for abuse."

While Sun believes red light cameras are a useful solution for traffic accidents, he also believes that the potential for abuse is still there, but can be resolved through the legal system. The fact that third party vendors install and operate the cameras in some cases could cause concern amongst drivers, such as when Kroske posed as a normal citizen promoting his company's products to benefit himself rather than the public. 

Sun suggests that state legislators develop laws that regulate privacy, jurisdiction and operation of the red light cameras. Sun also notes that schemes to generate revenue are very unlikely.

"There are many parties from separate branches of the government involved in the operation of an intersection," said Sun. "If people wanted to create a scheme to make money, it would have to involve many people who all have a charge to do their duty well. The irony of red light camera enforcement is that if people obeyed the law, the revenue wouldn't be generated."





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