ONLY ON 3: Safety group says red light cameras save lives
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WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) -- Statistics released by a traffic safety group are once again stirring up national debate over red light cameras. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says the controversial cameras saved 159 lives in 14 cities from 2004 to 2008. The IIHS goes on to say that if the cameras had been installed in all US cities with populations over 200,000, they could have prevented 815 deaths.

The red light cameras may keep you from running that red light, but could they save your life?

"The end result you want from a red light camera program is to change driver behavior; to get people aware of the fact that when your light goes yellow and then proceeds on to red, your right of way has ended and somebody else in that intersection now has the right of way," said Don Bennett, a traffic engineer in charge of the red light camera program for the City of Wilmington.

Bennett said red light cameras are having a positive impact in Wilmington. But the executive director of the National Motorist Association, Gary Biller, says they cause more problems than they're worth.

"Study after study after study shows that after a red light camera is put into place, the number of rear-end accidents increases greatly," Biller said.

He said when people see the red light camera sign, their first instinct is to slam on the breaks, and that leads to fender benders. Bennett said this has not been the case here in Wilmington.

"Some people say the rear-end crashes go up. That wasn't our experience here in Wilmington that we saw based on the study we did three years into our program," Bennett said.

Driver Annette Julaton said although she has felt the negative effects of the red light cameras by getting a ticket in the mail, she feels safer while driving now that they're there.

"They know the camera's there, so I think it helps them slow down too instead of going straight through the red lights," Julaton said.

Highway Patrol said it's had no reports of fatal accidents linked to running red lights since 2006 in New Hanover County. The Wilmington Police Department could not get us figures for the city by news time.

We do know of at least one fatal crash in the last couple of months in Wilmington. Back in December a grandmother died after knowingly running a red light trying to get her granddaughter to the hospital. She was hit by a car that had the right of way.

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Perhaps they do save lives and perhaps they make people think before they go through them but let me tell you my experience. I was in Wilmington for a doctor's appt. Several weeks later I get a bill from the city saying that I ran the red light and they even sent a picture. Problem was, the picture showed me sitting behind the white line at the stoplight. I didn't run it. Since I live quite a distance away, I didn't want to go to Wilmington to fight it so I just sent in the check and a copy of the picture. Not a word from them - but they did cash the check!

What did you expect them to do? You should have sent the picture back and asked them why they thought you had run a red light. No way would I have paid the fine. I got a ticket in the mail a couple years ago from the camera at Legion Stadium (only catches traffic headed toward town), but beat it at my hearing.

They fool NO ONE. They use them for the money that they make for the city - THAT'S what they care about. So you have people that limp through intersections where they KNOW the cameras are - big deal! That doesn't even come close to slowing them down at the very next intersection - and we all know that - we see it every single day! Cameras are just a cash cow.

The money doesn't go to the city. Money from traffic tickets and the cameras ALL goes to the school board. The city doesn't see a penny of it.

It is questionable whether the cameras save any lives, and they exist solely to generate revenue for the camera companies. In addition, their maintenance costs are very high.

There are not enough cameras in Wilmington to get an accurate idea of whether or not they are effective. First of all, the delayed green is far more important than the camera. Holding traffic a couple seconds after a light turns red before the green appears, gives those trying to beat the red time to clear the intersection before any cross traffic enters. If someone is texting or otherwise not paying attention to the light, accidents are going to happen regardless of the camera. For the most part, the cameras are just quick money-makers which most likely do cause many rear-end collisions.

How can one light at the intersection catch any others that run the red light from the other three directions.