The installation of red light cameras at intersections in 14 major American cities improved driving safety, saving the lives of an estimated 159 people from 2004 to 2008.

That, at least, is the conclusion of a new report from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. It says that the cameras, which automatically photograph the license plates of cars that apparently fail to obey stoplights, cut fatalities from crashes involving drivers running red lights by 24 percent.

Although the automated law enforcement tools have proven unpopular with many voters, “The cities that have the courage to use red light cameras despite the political backlash are saving lives,” said Adrian Lund, president of the institute.

The report compared the numbers of red-light car crashes in cities with stoplight cameras versus the corresponding figures for cities without the cameras. Based on the advantages of the cameras, the report’s authors concluded that 815 lives would have been saved from 2004 through 2008 around the country had each of the 99 cities in the U.S. with more than 200,000 residents installed the devices.

However, the report’s conclusions were rejected by critics of the stoplight cameras. Gary Biller, executive director of the National Motorists Association, told USA Today that cameras increase crashes in some areas and that other strategies, such as longer yellow lights, are more effective in making intersections safer.

The cameras also often have been rejected by voters in communities around the country. Some critics complain that the cameras mainly are intended to raise revenue by fining drivers, and that the automated equipment intrudes on privacy and misses special circumstances that may have led to apparent violations.

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