Red-light cameras save lives

It only takes a split second for someone’s life to change forever. In the blink of an eye a collision can occur that begins a long road of recovery for those injured or the families and loved ones of those killed in a crash related to running a red light. Having experienced a life-changing injury myself, I can attest to the public and private sides of paralyzing spinal cord injuries, and I can tell you that every bit of encouragement and hope is vital to recovery.

Researchers at The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis set out each day to develop treatments that are more effective for people living with brain and spinal cord injuries, and to find a cure for paralysis. This is the hope and encouragement our organization provides to the people and their families who are left on their own after the accident is cleared away.

My spinal cord injury occurred on the football field, but many of the 10,000 to 12,000 spinal cord injuries that occur each year in the United States are the result of traffic collisions. One way to help minimize these tragedies is to reduce traffic crashes, and many Florida communities are doing so by instituting red-light safety camera programs. In addition to reducing collisions, these programs also help in another way: They provide important financial resources to The Miami Project that don’t cost taxpayers a penny.

Out of every red-light running fine that is paid, $3 is set aside for The Miami Project and its important research. From mid-2010 through April 2013, reckless drivers have contributed more than $4.8 million to this invaluable research. This is a direct assistance to those people who are injured in traffic crashes, some of whom were merely driving to work or running an errand.

Thanks to The Miami Project’s research work, new and safer spinal surgery techniques are in use, new understandings of how therapies can better improve walking and grip strength are known, and this year an important clinical study took place that laid the foundation for future cell-based therapies to target spinal cord injuries. Florida’s forward-thinking and community-minded approach to safety on the road is helping to make all this possible.

Of course, the benefits of red-light safety cameras begin at the intersection. Red-light cameras save lives by getting people to stop on red. Changing the way motorists perceive the yellow and red lights so that they stop safely is a lifesaving achievement.

Red-light cameras are making this happen. Late last year, the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles publicized the results of a survey of 73 Florida police agencies with red-light camera programs in their cities. The single most common outcome the police departments experienced with cameras in place was a decrease in total crashes. Additionally, the largest percentage of the police departments, 43.8 percent, reported that T-bone or side-impact crashes decreased with red-light cameras in place. These angle crashes are most often associated with red-light running and are most likely to end in injury or death.

Our own city of Miami reports a change in traffic collisions since red-light cameras became active in late 2010. In fact, crashes at intersections with cameras have decreased 10.8 percent from 2010 to 2012. Elsewhere, collisions in Hillsborough County at red-light camera locations are down by 39 percent since camera implementation, and one year after Tampa installed its cameras, crashes at those intersections fell by 29 percent, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

Undoubtedly, the results from this life-protecting technology are more than practical, they bring a new and promising method of safety to drivers and their passengers. Red-light safety cameras do just what we need them to do in Florida: They protect people from dangerous traffic collisions, and the fines generated by people who run red lights provide a much-needed and highly appropriate public contribution to those who are injured.

I ask you to join me in support of spinal cord injury research, traffic safety and red-light cameras. Together, these goals make for a single community endeavor that we can all support.

Marc Buoniconti is the president of both The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis and The Buoniconti Fund to Cure Paralysis. He sustained a spinal-cord injury that left him paralyzed from the shoulders down while playing football for The Citadel in 1985. He is a co-founder of The Miami Project.

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