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Friday, June 27, 2008

CADPI sighting at Newsweek

Tino Sonora and I have a paper investigating the economics of red light cameras and the problem of red light running in general. The paper has had a hard time finding a home: transportation journals don't like the economics and economics journals ask why economists would care about transportation issues. Nevertheless, we received a slight return as the working paper was discovered by a reporter at Newsweek who called me a couple of weeks ago.

Here's the extent to which I was mentioned in the story:

Craig Depken, a University of North Carolina at Charlotte economist who has studied why people run red lights, says the more people are aware of the cameras, the higher their value as a deterrent, which is why some cities post signs advertising the cameras' presence.


More here

The paper to which the reporter refers is here

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Comments:
In general, it is unsafe to run red lights. Running a red light carries risks of physical harm, which are much more important to me than the risk of being ticketed. However, there are certain scenarios when the safest option is to run the red light. Times when someone was tailgating me and the light was at the end of the yellow, or when I was "passed the point of a safe stop" as the light turned yellow, I have decided that the safest option is to run the red light and take my chances. These decisions benefited my safety and those driving around me that may otherwise have been involved in a collision. These scenarios may seem rare to an individual, but in aggregate, I suspect they are fairly common.

Then, it seems that having a camera to detect those who run red lights and send them tickets via mail would introduce inefficiency. The camera cannot distinguish between reckless driving and the rational assessment of a unique scenario. Responsible drivers who would regularly run red lights only when it is the safest option will either continue to do so and accept fines or they will unsafely stop to avoid being ticketed. Meanwhile, irresponsible drivers will have the incentive to slam on their breaks in front of yellow lights to avoid fines, trusting that if they are rear-ended, the other driver will be held at fault.

Cameras act as a negative incentive to run red lights, sure, but this may have unintended consequences that, when accounted for, result in a net-negative outcome.
 
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