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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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