COVID-19 UPDATE: We are open! Our team is working and offering consultations via phone, e-mail, and video conferencing.

San Diego Takes Down Red Light Cameras - Will Intersection Accidents Increase?

The McClellan Law Firm


In our last blog post, we discussed a red-light accident that killed a nanny and seriously injured a one-year-old boy. This week, we learned that San Diego Mayor Bob Filner has decided to take down the city's red light cameras. The cameras, which were installed in 1998, were intended to prevent running red lights and reduce car accidents at intersections. $500 fines were issued to drivers who ran red lights.

However, the mayor claims that the red lights didn't work as intended. "Seems to me that such a program can only be justified if there are demonstrable facts that prove that they raise the safety awareness and decrease accidents in our city. The data, in fact, does not really prove it," he said. He believes the cameras bred hostility among residents and hurt the tourism industry, since many tickets were issued to tourists.

Is the Mayor Correct?

Tickets going to tourists notwithstanding, there is substantial evidence to support that red light cameras reduce crash rates and increase pedestrian safety. A long-term study looked at 62 similarly-sized cities, 14 that implemented red light cameras and 48 that didn’t. While intersection collisions decreased overall for both types of cities, collision rates dropped over twice as quickly in cities with cameras—35% vs. 14%. One study from Texas A&M found that T-bone crash rates dropped after installing red light cameras.

Whether or not the mayor is fair in his assessment, surrounding cities have taken his lead. In late 2014, Oceanside also discontinued their red light camera program (although they continued letting the cameras take pictures of violators, as even the presence of a fake camera helped drivers think twice). Eerily, almost exactly a year later, a driver in Oceanside ran a red light and struck another vehicle, pinning three passengers inside. All three suffered serious injuries, but none were killed.

4 Killed in Red Light Crash

In January 2016, victims in a Chula Vista red light crash were not so lucky. An Acura with five total passengers ran a red light near Industrial and Main Street, striking a Honda Odyssey with three other passengers. Four passengers (all in the Acura) were killed, with one critically injured. Now, obviously no one can predict if the presence of red light cameras would have changed the outcome or saved lives.

But every red light accident in the San Diego will now beg the question—was the Mayor making his decision based on the preponderance of evidence that support the usage of red light cameras? Is tourist income worth the increased danger for pedestrians, bikers, and drivers? Perhaps out-of-towners would be frustrated by receiving a ticket in San Diego, but our firm imagines that a ticket is far more preferable to receiving a life-altering catastrophic injury or the loss of a loved one.

Safety advocates fear that more of these accidents will occur at dangerous San Diego intersections such as North Harbor Drive and West Grape Street (the intersection best known for red-light running and tickets). It is up to drivers, then, to watch out for red light runners, look both ways before crossing a street, even when the light is green, and hold red-light runners accountable when their actions cause injury.