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Red light cameras can help communities enforce traffic laws by automatically photographing vehicles whose drivers run red lights. A red light camera system is connected to the traffic signal and to sensors buried in the pavement at the crosswalk or stop line. The system continuously monitors the traffic signal, and the camera itself is triggered by any vehicle passing over the sensors above a pre-set minimum speed and a specified time after the signal has turned red. A second photograph is taken that typically shows the red light violator in the intersection. The camera records the date, time of day, and time elapsed since the beginning of the red signal and the speed of the vehicle. Electronic flash produces clear images of vehicles under all light and weather conditions. Tickets typically are sent by mail to owners of violating vehicles, based on review of photographic evidence.

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Automated red light enforcement using cameras has proven to be effective in reducing the incidence of red light running and the number of red light running accidents. There are currently twenty-one known states and one territory which have considered camera technology for enforcement and have either passed legislation or are considering legislation to enforce red light running with camera technology. These are Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, New York, Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Texas, Virginia, Washington State, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. As well, some local communities are utilizing red light camera technologies based on the passage of local ordinances.


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PhotoAt the same time, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) offered grants to five states to implement red light running technologies (cameras) for test and evaluation in red light running enforcement. The sites were: Los Angeles, CA; Ft. Meade, FL; Charleston, SC; Howard County, MD; and Washington, DC. These efforts have involved the test and evaluation of still 35 mm (wet film) and digital camera technology. Additionally, Washington, D.C. is using video technology in some locations. Howard County, Los Angeles and Ft. Meade have completed projects with efforts still underway at the other locations.

Initial reports show success with the technology and reduction of RLR crashes. Additional funding has been granted to Howard County to test and evaluate digital camera technology with images sent from two different intersections to one central processing center. Howard County has both still and digital systems installed throughout the county. The digital camera evaluation is a one year effort to be completed ..... A final report documenting the preliminary results of the FHWA demonstration project entitled Synthesis and Evaluation of Red Light Running Electronic Enforcement Programs in the United States is now available.

Stop Red Light Running

Stop Red Light Running LogoThe Stop Red Light Running Program was created by the Federal Highway Administration in 1995 as a community-based safety program. This campaign raised awareness of the dangers of red light running and helped reduce fatalities in many of the participating communities. In April of 1998, DaimlerChrysler and the American Trauma Society partnered with FHWA to continue the Stop Red Light Running Program. Together, we sponsor the Annual National Stop on Red Week, support local programs around the country, work with victims and family members, and develop and distribute educational materials.

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Stop Red Light Running Facts

Stop Red Light Running LogoEach year, more than 1.8 million intersection crashes occur. In 1999, 92,000 crashes, 90,000 injuries, and about 950 deaths were attributed to red light running.

  • Gif In 1998, there were 89,000 red light running crashes that resulted in 80,000 injuries and 986 deaths.
  • Gif Overall, 55.8 percent of Americans admit to running red lights. Yet ninety-six percent of drivers fear they will get hit by a red light runner when they enter an intersection.
  • Gif This campaign’s safety message is clear to everyone: red light running is the leading cause of urban crashes today. Phase I of Red Light Running significantly decreased these crashes in 28 of 31 participating communities. During the most recent years of the campaign, we have seen nearly a 10% decline in red light running crashes and fatalities.
  • Gif One in three people claim they personally know someone who has been injured or killed in a red-light-running crash -- similar to the percentage of people who know someone who was killed or injured by a drunk driver.
  • Gif About 21 percent said they felt that drunk driving incidents are decreasing, but only six percent felt that red light running incidents were decreasing. 
  • Gif Although, social scientists might hypothesize that "frustration" and "road rage" would represent what most people perceived as the cause of red light running, the results proved otherwise. Only 15.8 percent of respondents cited those reasons, while nearly half (47.8) admitted to being prompted by nothing more complicated than being in a hurry.
  • Gif Red light runners do not conform to a set demographic – the dangerous practice reaches across drivers of all age, economic groups and gender. The perpetrators are everyday people; professionals, blue-collar workers, unemployed, homemakers, parents, and young adults.


Stop Red Light Running FAQ

as of December 2000

  1. What is red light running?
  2. Is red light running a big problem?
  3. How often do drivers run red lights?
  4. Isn't conventional police enforcement sufficient?
  5. What safety benefits do red light cameras provide?
  6. Who runs red lights?
  7. Do the cameras photograph every vehicle passing through an intersection?
  8. Does someone review the photographs before motorists are ticketed?
  9. Do red light cameras violate motorists' privacy?
  10. Are special laws needed to allow localities to use red light cameras to cite violators?
  11. Are red light camera programs expensive?
  12. Does the American public support the use of red light cameras?
  13. Do major U.S. cities use red light cameras?
  14. What other countries use red light cameras?

1. What is red light running? A violation occurs when a motorist deliberately enters an intersection after the signal light has turned red. Motorists inadvertently in an intersection when the signal changes to red -- when waiting to turn, for example -- aren't red light runners. back to questions

2. Is red light running a big problem? Drivers who run red lights are responsible for an estimated 260,000 crashes each year, of which approximately 750 are fatal. On a national basis, fatal motor vehicle crashes at traffic signals increased 18 percent between 1992 and 1998, far outpacing the 6 percent rise in all other fatal crashes. Red light running is a big part of the problem. Institute researchers determined that during this time period there were 5,294 red light running crashes, rising from 702 in 1992 to 745 in 1998, a 6 percent increase.

RED LIGHT RUNNING CRASHRunning red lights and other traffic controls like stop and yield signs is the most frequent type of urban crash, Institute research shows. Researchers studied police reports of crashes on public roads in four urban areas during 1990 and 1991. Of 13 crash types researchers identified, running traffic controls accounted for 22 percent of all crashes. Among crashes involving running traffic controls, 24 percent involved running red lights. The same study shows that motorists are more likely to be injured in crashes involving red light running than in other types of crashes. Occupant injuries occurred in 45 percent of the red light running crashes studied, compared with 30 percent for other crash types. back to questions

3. How often do drivers run red lights? A study conducted over several months at a busy intersection in Arlington County, Virginia, an urban area outside Washington, D.C., indicates that motorists frequently run red lights. On average, a motorist ran a red light every 12 minutes. During peak travel times, red light running was more frequent. For example, between 8 and 9 a.m., a motorist ran a red light every 5 minutes. back to questions

4. Isn't conventional police enforcement sufficient? Enforcing traffic laws in dense urban areas by traditional means poses special difficulties for police, who in most cases must follow a violating vehicle through a red light to stop it. This can endanger motorists and pedestrians as well as officers, and police can't be everywhere at once. Communities don't have the resources to allow police to patrol intersections as often as would be needed to ticket all motorists who run red lights. The cameras allow police to focus on other enforcement needs. back to questions

5. What safety benefits do red light cameras provide? They've been shown to reduce red light violations and intersection crashes. A recent Institute study of a program in Oxnard, California, shows that red light running violations dropped a total of 42 percent after cameras were introduced at nine intersections, which includes a similar decline at intersections that weren't equipped with them. Another study showed violations declined about 40 percent in Fairfax, Virginia after one year of camera enforcement. Victoria, Australia, began using red light cameras at traffic signal intersections in 1983 and posted signs alerting motorists of their presence. A subsequent report by the Road Traffic Authority found a 32 percent decrease in right-angle collisions and a 10 percent reduction in injuries after the cameras were installed. back to questions

6. Who runs red lights? The Institute created a profile of red light runners by studying driver behavior at an Arlington, Virginia, intersection equipped with a red light camera. The study compared red light runners to motorists who had an opportunity to run a red light but didn't. As a group, red light runners were younger, less likely to use safety belts, had poorer driving records, and drove smaller and older vehicles than drivers who stopped for red lights. Red light runners were more than three times as likely to have multiple speeding convictions on their driver records. No gender differences were found between violators and drivers who didn't run red lights. back to questions

7. Do the cameras photograph every vehicle passing through an intersection? No. The cameras typically are set so only those vehicles that enter an intersection after the light has turned red are photographed. Drivers who enter on yellow and find themselves in an intersection when the light changes to red aren't photographed. This technology is intended to catch vehicles driven by motorists who intentionally enter an intersection well after the signal has turned red. back to questions

8. Does someone review the photographs before motorists are ticketed? Yes. Trained police officers or other officials review every picture to verify vehicle information and ensure that the vehicle is in violation. Tickets are mailed to vehicle owners only in cases where it's clear the vehicle ran the red light. back to questions

9. Do red light cameras violate motorists' privacy? No. Driving is a regulated activity on public roads. By obtaining a license, motorists agree to abide by certain rules -- to obey traffic signals, for example. Neither the law nor common sense suggests drivers shouldn't be observed on the road or have their violations documented. In addition, red light camera systems can be designed to photograph only a vehicle's rear license plate -- not vehicle occupants, depending on local law. more information on legal issues | back to questions

10. Are special laws needed to allow localities to use red light cameras to cite violators? In order for localities to use the cameras for law enforcement purposes, laws must authorize enforcement agencies to cite red light violators by mail. The legislation also must make the vehicle owner responsible for the ticket, establishing a presumption that the registered owner is the vehicle driver at the time of the offense. Red light cameras are currently permitted in 12 states -- Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Virginia, and Washington -- and the District of Columbia. Violations photographed by red light cameras are most commonly treated in two ways -- as traffic violations or as the equivalent of parking tickets, depending on state law. If, as in New York, red light camera violations are treated like parking citations, the law can make registered vehicle owners responsible without regard to who is driving at the time of the offense. Virginia makes red light camera violations a civil offense like New York, but unlike New York, the state allows registered owners to avoid citations by filing affidavits swearing they weren't driving when the violations occurred. back to questions

11. Are red light camera programs expensive? A red light camera costs about $50,000. Installation and sensors cost about $5,000. A single red light camera can be used at several locations once the sites are equipped to work with the camera, allowing communities to move cameras between sites without drivers knowing which ones are active at any given time. Startup costs can be offset by fines paid by violators, savings from crashes prevented, and by freeing police to focus on other enforcement efforts. back to questions

12. Does the American public support the use of red light cameras? The U.S. public strongly supports the use of red light cameras. Two 1995 surveys sponsored by the Institute revealed that nationwide, 66 percent of 1,006 people polled said they favor the use of red light cameras, compared with 28 percent who opposed. A 1996 survey by the Insurance Research Council found that the highest support for red light cameras was in large cities, where 83 percent of respondents supported their use. Strong support is also found in communities where the cameras are used; recent red light camera programs in Oxnard, California and Fairfax, Virginia, were supported by 80 percent of residents polled. back to questions

13. Do major US cities use red light cameras? They're used for law enforcement in New York City; Washington, DC; Baltimore; Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco, California; and Charlotte, North Carolina, in addition to many smaller communities. back to questions

14. What other countries use red light cameras? Photographic detection devices are used extensively in many other countries including Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Germany, Israel, the Netherlands, Singapore, South Africa, Switzerland, Taiwan, and the United Kingdom. back to questions



Stop Red Light Running Red Light Cameras
brief descriptions of the different camera technologies -- i.e. wet, digital and video -- being used today and how they work.

PhotoUsually, a photo detection system is composed of electromagnetic loops buried in the pavement, a terminal block that houses a microprocessor, and a camera (wet film, digital or video) atop a 15+/- foot pole. When the signal turns red, the system becomes active and the camera takes pictures when cars enter the intersection. Photographs are taken of the rear of the car or both the front and rear ends. (If both the front and rear of a violating vehicle is to be photographed, two cameras will be used.) If large commercial vehicles are present on the road, front photographs are essential for identifying the owner of the truck. Normally, the camera records the date, time of day, time elapsed since beginning of red signal and the speed of the vehicle. Upon review of the photographs and depending on State or local law requirements, tickets are issued by mail.

Passetti cited the following 10 requirements that automated enforcement systems should include:


Three camera types are generally used for red light enforcement:

Wet film/35-mm
Industrial quality 35-mm camera (wet film) technology is the most common type used for photographing red light runners. Most automated enforcement systems equipped with 35-mm cameras produce black and white photographs, but some systems may produce color photographs. Although black and white photographs are less expensive than color photographs, it is often difficult to tell which light is illuminated on the traffic signal. Color photography can be used to eliminate any doubt as to whether the traffic signal is actually red.

Cameras are located in a special unit to protect them from the elements and vandalism and placed atop poles. Poles may be either hinged or contain specially designed "elevator" systems to allow access to the cameras. A notable quality of wet film systems is the need to have personnel visit every camera location, often on a daily basis, to retrieve exposed film and reload. The film is then transported for processing, developed, sent to a facility for review and then converted to a digital image.

Although vendors of automated enforcement technology will often claim that a single camera can enforce four through travel lanes, experience in New York and other areas has shown that reliable, accurate enforcement can only be performed on the first three travel lanes next to the red light camera. By having the loop detectors used only for the automated enforcement system, interference and conflicts with other detectors used for the traffic control system can be avoided.

When the traffic signal switches to the red phase, the camera used by the automated enforcement system becomes active (ready to take photographs). Vehicles traveling over the detectors while the camera is active signal the system to photograph the vehicle. A small period of time, referred to as a grace period, and a preset speed necessary to activate the system are usually allowed in order to differentiate between vehicles attempting to stop or turn right on red and vehicles that clearly are running the red light. A common grace period is 3/10 of a second (though an international standard of 0.5 seconds exists) and a minimum speed necessary to activate the system ranges from 15 to 20 miles per hour.

When the system is activated by a vehicle running a red light, at least two pictures are taken by the camera. The first picture shows that the front of the vehicle is not in the intersection when the traffic signal is red. This picture must show the pavement marking defining the intersection (usually the stop bar or the crosswalk), the traffic signal displaying a red light, and the vehicle in question . The second picture then shows the vehicle in the intersection a short time later (0.5 to 1.5 seconds). If driver identification is necessary, a third picture of the driver may be taken. From the pictures taken, the license plate will be magnified to allow for identification.

The ability of a system to photograph only red light violators is important in limiting the costs associated with each picture and the amount of resources needed to reduce the data collected by the cameras. The placement of traffic loops or piezoe sensors will often determine how many pictures will be taken by the system and the capability of the system to differentiate between vehicles accelerating to run the traffic signal and vehicles attempting to stop or turn right. In Pasadena, California, for example, several problems were experienced with a red light violation automated enforcement system. Ninety-five percent of the photographs taken by the system were of non-violating vehicles. The high rate of photographs was attributed to the improper placement of the loops which caused left turning vehicles "trapped" in the intersection making turns after the onset of a red signal and vehicles that would creep forward passed the stop bar to be photographed.

Digital cameras have the capability to produce higher resolution, more sharply detailed images of vehicles, and are equipped to prevent reflections or headlights from smearing the image. Photographs produced by digital cameras may be in color or black and white. The configuration of digital camera applications is very similar to the one described for applications using 35-mm cameras. As with 35-mm cameras, digital cameras are placed in protective housings atop poles. Sensors are placed in the pavement in the same manner as for 35-mm applications, with two sets of sensors per lane to detect vehicle presence and speeds. The cameras are wired to the signal controller and the loop sensors so when the signal turns red, the system becomes active. When a vehicle traveling over the allowed range of 15 to 20 miles per hour crosses the sensors, two pictures will be taken. Again, the first picture will be before the entrance to the intersection, usually the cross-walk or the stop bar, and the second picture will be a preset time later, usually 0.5 to 0.9 second later, with the vehicle in the intersection.

A major expected benefit of digital cameras is in easing the photo collection and accelerating the processing and distribution of notices of violation (tickets). This benefit is brought about because the captured image can be electronically transmitted directly to the review facility and immediately incorporated into a citation. In addition, digital cameras eliminate costs of such things as the film, processing, and the personnel required for daily film handling.

Hansen introduces a variety of issues associated with digital cameras. Very importantly, he questions how the courts will view digital violation images. Specifically, he points out the ease with which digital images can be tampered. In comparison with a wet film system, an original 35-mm slide and photo can be produced in court to support the veracity of the evidence. This back-up plan does not exist with digital images. The following suggestions are offered:

Other issues with digital cameras include the large file sizes for high resolution photos. This in turn brings about slower and more costly file transfers. This could be especially cumbersome with multi-camera systems. Another issue is that some digital cameras are out of service while capturing an image. This could result in an inability to capture multiple violators i.e. the second or third violators going through the red signal.

The use of video cameras and video processing technologies is receiving more attention for red light enforcement activities. Video cameras can be used to determine a vehicle's speed as it approaches the intersection, predict whether or not the vehicle will stop for the red light and then track the vehicle through the intersection and record a brief video sequence of the violation. Video images allow close-ups of both the front and rear license plates. Newer video cameras are digital which allows real-time transmission of images and, like digital still cameras, reduced transport, handling and reproduction costs. Full video sequences can increase the number of detected violations for subsequent ticketing.

An advantage of a video system may be its ability to detect vehicle speed and predict whether or not a red light running violation will take place. With this prediction, it is possible to preempt the normal signal changes to create an all-red signal to prevent crossing traffic from entering the intersection when a collision is possible. Though this does not prevent the violation, it can help to mitigate the potential consequences of the violation. Additionally, video cameras can be used for non-enforcement activities such as traffic monitoring and surveillance, incident response, and crash reconstruction. If digital video cameras are used, the same concerns, i.e., lack of negatives and other non-tamperproof forms of evidence, etc. apply as for the digital still cameras.

Red Light Cameras Effectiveness

The material in this section is derived from personal conversations, reports, articles and other sources. They are provided for illustration only and are therefore not fully referenced. Users are directed to the reports and articles section to find fully documented results information.

Results: Crashes

New York City: At one red light camera installation it has been found in a before-after analysis that angled crashes have decreased by 60 to 70 percent after installation of the camera. Though the number of angle crashes has decreased, there has been an increase in less severe rear-end collisions in the same time frame. Total crashes are down. Considering all sites, rear end accidents held steady at most signals and increased at some.

Howard County, MD: Crash reductions noted at two installations. Reduction effectiveness correlates with ADT growth at intersections (as documented in a British study).


Oxnard, CA: After one year, 22 percent reduction in RLR accidents citywide, though no effort as of this reporting to monitor accidents at the camera locations only.

San Francisco, CA: Notable impact of red light camera pilot program may be a citywide reduction in collisions and injuries caused by red light violators. Although statistically it is too early to conclude that efforts to reduce red light running in San Francisco are responsible for this reduction, the future looks promising. Comparing data from the previous five years, there was a 9 percent reduction in injury collisions caused by red light violators in 1997. (See Table)

TABLE: Collisions Caused by Red Light Violators in San Francisco, 1992-1997(*)

Year Injury Collisions Fatalities Total Injured
1992 780 3 1367
1993 779 5 1320
1994 781 4 1293
1995 809 4 1343
1996 780 5 1297
5 Year Average 786 4 1324
1997 724 1 1198
(*) Department of California Highway Patrol, State Wide Integrated Traffic Records System

Fairfax, VA:
Cameras at nine intersections produced a 7 percent reduction in violations after 3 months and a 44 percent reduction after 1 year.

International: South Australia - 10.4 percent reduction in fatalities and 24 percent reduction in injury crashes. Victoria, Australia - Right angle accidents decreased by 32 percent, right angle turning accidents decreased by 25 percent, rear end crashes decreased by 30.8 percent and rear end turnign accidents increased by 28.2 percent.

Results: Violations

Howard County, MD: At the two original locations, 18 months' experience with warning letters resulted in violation drops of 21 percent and 25 percent. After 6 months of citations, violations dropped an additional 50 percent and 42 percent a final drop of 60 percent and 56 percent of original level. Experience indicates huge entering volumes at these two intersections -- both intersections have >40,000 ADT on major road and >2000 PHF. Population along most consumer corridors changes 7-9% per year, so it is always necessary to educate new motorists to the law.

Minnesota: Experimental engineering project using flashing lights at advance signal sign on rural expressway. Testing done 53.4 days before, 53.4 days after - no grace period. Number of violations dropped by: 29 percent for all vehicles (749-512) and 63 percent for trucks (203 - 76). Number of violators dropped in following delay categories: 0-0.5, 0.5-1.0, 1.0-1.5, 1.5-2.0

New York City: Cameras went on line in 1994. 50 percent of pictures ended up as citations. There has been a 34 percent reduction in violations, using data from the 18 cameras:

1994 178,328 violations ------> 27/ day / intersection
1995 146, 812
1996 140, 751
1997 116, 402 ------> 17.6/ day / intersection

Oxnard, CA: The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety recorded a 42 percent reduction in red light violations. The Oxnard study included locations not equipped with cameras and found that there was a "spill over" effect at these locations as well.

San Francisco, CA: Since October 1996, the pilot red light photo enforcement program has issued nearly 10,000 citations. San Francisco Municipal Court records indicate that violators pay these citations at rates comparable to citations issued by police officers in the field (approximately two-thirds paid). The first six months of the pilot project showed that the number of red light runners at photo enforced intersections dropped more than 42 percent.

International: United Kingdom - 55 percent decline in violations. Singapore - 40 percent decline. Victoria, Australia - 32 percent reduction in violations.


Red Light Cameras Legislation

Status of legislation for red light cameras across the Nation (August 2000)

US Map