This year, Smith, Born, Leventis, Taylor & Vega offered a $1,500 scholarship contest for students pursuing a college degree. We asked students to submit essays answering the following prompt: South Carolina state law currently prohibits the use of red-light cameras. How could this be impacting the safety of other drivers and pedestrians at intersections?
The topic really seemed to spark the interest of students because we received almost 250 entries! Although it was difficult to choose just one winner, we ultimately selected the essay written by Aravind Krishna Saravu from Rutgers University–New Brunswick.
In addition to Aravind’s essay, we’d also like to share with you some of our other favorite essays that highlight the diverse viewpoints on this important topic.
Our scholarship winner—Aravind Krishna Saravu from Rutgers University–New Brunswick
“In recent years, South Carolina has stood out by implementing a law that prohibits the use of red-light cameras (Smith, 2022). While this decision might seem to prioritize individual privacy, it has raised concerns regarding the safety of drivers and pedestrians at intersections. This essay aims to explore the potential impacts of this law on intersection safety and highlight the need for reevaluation.
Red-light cameras are automated systems that capture images or videos of vehicles that run red lights at intersections (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 2018). They play a crucial role in enforcing traffic rules and enhancing road safety. By prohibiting these cameras, South Carolina may inadvertently be compromising the safety of its road users.
One of the primary ways red-light cameras improve intersection safety is by acting as a deterrent (Huang et al., 2019). Knowing that there is a chance of being caught on camera and receiving a ticket encourages drivers to obey traffic signals diligently. This, in turn, reduces the likelihood of collisions and accidents at intersections. Without this deterrent, there may be a higher incidence of reckless driving, putting both drivers and pedestrians at risk.
Furthermore, red-light cameras are an unbiased means of enforcement (Chen et al., 2020). They do not discriminate based on race, gender, or any other personal characteristic. In contrast, relying solely on law enforcement officers to monitor intersections may lead to inconsistent enforcement and potential biases. This inconsistency can undermine public trust in the fairness of traffic enforcement.”
Oluwaseyifunmi Williams from Morgan State University
“According to a study conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), red-light running is a leading cause of intersection crashes, accounting for approximately 22% of all traffic fatalities at intersections in the United States (IIHS, 2020). The absence of red-light cameras in South Carolina means there is no reliable way to monitor and enforce traffic violations at intersections, which may encourage drivers to run red lights and increase the risk of accidents. In the absence of red-light cameras, Law enforcement officers are responsible for monitoring and enforcing traffic laws at intersections. However, officers are often busy with other duties, making it difficult to apprehend every red-light violator. This means that drivers who violate traffic laws at intersections may escape punishment, which can encourage other drivers to engage in similar behavior. The lack of unvarying consequence may contribute to a culture of disregard for traffic laws, which makes intersections more dangerous for drivers and pedestrians alike (Traffic Safety Store, 2021).”
Sean Devlin from University of North Carolina at Charlotte
“Red light cameras are proven effective at reducing traffic violations, but they can actually increase the number of crashes. Multiple sources suggest that red light cameras lower the amount of right-angle (also known as sideswipe or T-bone) crashes while increasing the amount of rear-end collisions. This is because drivers approaching an intersection while the light is yellow might ordinarily speed through, but because of the red light camera, they will instead slam on the brakes to avoid getting a ticket. Because of the case-by-case differences in intersections studied, it is unclear whether there is a net increase or decrease in total number of collisions.
While reductions in overall accidents may be disputed, there is a distinct reduction in injuries where red light cameras are present. Intersections with cameras are shown to ‘reduce total casualty crashes’, saving approximately $38,000 every year from reduced severity of injuries. Rear-end collisions occur at the bumper, a point which is designed to absorb force and protect the occupants of the vehicle. This means that even if there are more crashes in total, the reduced frequency of dangerous right angle crashes will make the intersection safer overall.”
Devon Pearce from University of Central Florida
“To draw a proper conclusion regarding how the ban could be impacting intersection safety, one must also look at data from states where red light cameras are legal. In Florida, for example, approximately one third of crashes occur at signalized intersections, where red light cameras would be installed (Gerson & Schwartz, P.A.). While this is still slightly higher than the national average, it is far lower than that of South Carolina. Without regard to any other factor, this would be enough to say that the ban on red light cameras is making signalized intersections far more dangerous in South Carolina, however there is one more factor that should be addressed.
While red light cameras may reduce the number of side crashes, they also appear to increase the number of rear end crashes, as people suddenly stop to avoid triggering them. One article states that the cameras have resulted in a 29% decrease in right angle injury crashes but have caused a 19% increase in rear end crashes (Cohn et al., 2020). This data seems to indicate that red light cameras have little effect on intersection safety. A rear end crash has obvious effects on another driver’s safety, but it may have unintended effects on pedestrian safety as well. If a pedestrian is crossing, or otherwise near the vehicles when a rear end crash occurs, they may be struck as well, by potential debris, or if they happen to be in front of the lead vehicle at the time. However, the lack of red-light cameras still makes intersections far less safe than those with them, as there are far more fatal crashes in areas where they are banned.”
Would you like to be a part of our next essay contest?
Thanks to everyone who participated in this year’s contest! We really enjoyed reading all of your insightful essays. If you missed this year’s essay or would like to try again next time, be sure to check out our Scholarship page for the most up-to-date information and eligibility requirements.
Best of luck in all of your future academic endeavors!