What's missing when a driver cuts someone off, speeds or, worse, runs a red light? Oftentimes a police officer. But what would happen if there was a little electronic "officer" at every high-risk, accident-prone intersection in Pittsburgh?
Last year, the state Legislature authorized Pittsburgh to become the second city in Pennsylvania, after Philadelphia, to install red-light cameras, which may help to discourage poor driving decisions. Drivers who run a red light, for example, at an intersection where a camera is mounted would have their license numbers recorded and be sent a $100 ticket in the mail. Once enough tickets go out, motorists would get the message to keep their driving under control.
Last week, Pittsburgh council members discussed red-light cameras with state, industry and safety officials. Councilwoman Teresa Kail-Smith, who chairs the committee on public safety, said that some council members seem to favor trying the cameras on a pilot basis, but more meetings are needed to work out specifics. One is who would oversee the program (in Philadelphia, it's the parking authority).
Philadelphia installed red-light cameras eight years ago. Since then the program has collected more than $50 million in fines -- more than enough to cover the cost of the cameras and their use. The city was able to allocate 50 percent of the camera program's profit toward its streets department to help pay for services such as sanitation, sweeping and recycling.
More important than revenue is the chance for greater traffic safety. The Pennsylvania State Transportation Advisory Committee found that crashes declined by 24 percent in three years at 10 red-light camera intersections in Philadelphia. A 2011 study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that fatalities from running a red light fell by 35 percent in 14 cities with cameras in 2004-2008.
Pittsburghers may be ready for them, too. Ms. Kail-Smith cited a poll from Public Policy Polling that showed residents backed using the cameras by 59 percent to 35 percent.
Now that the city finally has the opportunity to try the cameras, Pittsburgh officials should take advantage.