N.C. State Grad Student Studies Impact Of Red-Light Cameras

Posted September 14, 2004 5:22 a.m. EDT

— Red-light cameras are supposed to make intersections safer, but the cameras cannot prevent all problems. More local governments are getting into the red-light camera business as well as a graduate student at North Carolina State University.

Chris Cunningham is working on his Masters degree at N.C. State's Institute for Transportation Research and Education. He is the lead man on a red-light camera study funded by the Governor's Highway Safety Program. He has a theory.

"The majority of the studies are not the best possible studies they can be. They can be more rigorous," he said. "The question we're trying to answer is, 'Do red-light cameras really reduce the number of collisions at intersections.'"

Cunningham said most local governments rely on flawed studies when they place red-light cameras and evaluate how they are working.

"What you try to do is set up a study that has a comparison group or a control group that is similar or comes from a similar pool to eliminate as much bias as possible and get a more true effect," Cunningham said.

Cunningham and his colleagues have a lot of work to do. They are pouring over data from intersections, including the one at Dawson and South Street -- Raleigh's first red-light camera intersection.

You might think Raleigh would not like a student researcher poking into its red-light camera business, but officials are happy about his project.

"I was very excited when they approached us about looking at our program. We've started to provide them some data and will continue to and hope to have a report sometime at the end of the year," Raleigh traffic engineer Mike Kennon said.

Everyone involved in the study said there is one goal.

"We want to make roads safer in North Carolina," Cunningham said.

Officials are planning a study of traffic cameras that also measure speed.