Traffic fatalities have been on the rise in the past two years, reaching the highest number since 2006. To confront this “national crisis,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg pledged $5 billion this year toward improving road safety, including greater use of automated speed cameras.
Automatic speed and red light cameras are a hot-button issue. Legislatures in 27 states have passed laws prohibiting speed camera use. Critics say that the cameras can be inaccurate and act more as a source of revenue for local governments than as a speeding deterrent.
Despite the opposition, traffic cameras have become more commonplace. The number of U.S. cities with speed cameras grew from 100 in 2010 to 155 a decade later, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Speed cameras are currently used in 19 states and in Washington, D.C. Red light cameras, a similar technology that targets red light runners, are used in 23 states and in Washington, D.C.
So do these technologies actually help to improve road safety?
States that use traffic cameras: Are they safer?
Bumper.com examined traffic fatality rates per 100,000 licensed drivers in each state and the District of Columbia from 2010 through 2020, comparing results from states that use automated traffic enforcement and states that don’t.
- States that use red light or speed cameras have lower overall crash fatality rates than states that don’t use these technologies. States that use red light cameras have an average fatality rate of 16.43 per 100,000 licensed drivers, compared to 18.69 among states that don’t. States that use speed cameras have an average fatality rate of 16.01, compared to 18.65 among states that don’t.
- Mississippi has the highest fatality rate (37.28) among states that do not use automated traffic enforcement. It is followed by Wyoming (29.73), Arkansas (29.62) and South Carolina (27.24). These states have the top four fatality rates among all states and Washington, D.C.
- Tennessee has the highest fatality rate (24.95) among states that use red light cameras. It is followed by Louisiana (24.23), Missouri (23.17) and Alabama (23.10).
- New Mexico has the highest fatality rate (27.02) among states that use speed cameras. It is followed by Tennessee (24.95), Louisiana (24.23) and Missouri (23.17).
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration projected that more than 31,000 people died in motor vehicle crashes in the first nine months of 2021—a 12% increase from the estimated fatalities in the same period of 2020.
“Despite the controversy around speed and red light cameras, our data show that they do correlate with lower rates of traffic-related deaths,” said Julianne Ohlander, a data analyst for Bumper.com. “Mississippi has the highest fatality rate among states that do not use these cameras, with 12 more deaths for every 100,000 licensed drivers compared to Tennessee, the state with the highest fatalities despite using both of these technologies.”
Cameras and speed limits: Which most impact driver safety?
- States are safest when they implement both lower speed limits and automated traffic enforcement. States with lower speed limits and red light cameras have a 23% lower fatality rate than states with higher speed limits and no red light cameras. The same trend appears for states with lower speed limits and speed cameras—they record a 20% lower fatality rate than states that use neither measure.
- States with higher speed limits are less safe for drivers regardless of whether red light or speed cameras are used. In states that don’t use automated traffic enforcement, higher speed limits result in an 18% to 25% increase in crash fatality rates. In states that use either red light or speed cameras, higher speed limits result in a 11% to 25% increase in crash fatality rates.
“The combination of lower maximum speed limits and use of red light or speed cameras makes a difference in protecting drivers from crashes,” Ohlander said. “Our data shows that drivers face greater danger in states where such measures are not implemented, and especially in states where neither measure is in place.”
Bumper.com examined traffic fatality rates per 100,000 licensed drivers in each state and the District of Columbia from 2010 through 2020, analyzing the use of automated traffic enforcement and top highway speed limits. Data from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Federal Highway Administration were used for this report.
For more information, contact Kerry Sherin, [email protected].
At Bumper, our mission is to give people the tools they need to make the most out of car ownership. Bumper provides accurate reporting at fair pricing, including a VIN number lookup tool, vehicle monitoring and access to a new and used car marketplace—all on one platform.