Red Light Q&A

Automated enforcement systems are well regulated by state law and have many safeguards that have been legislated in order to give the public a high level of confidence in their application. When a violation is captured, all data is reviewed by the program administrator before a citation is issued.

Questions and Answers about Red Light Camera Programs

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What is red light running?
A violation occurs when a motorist deliberately enters an intersection after the signal light has turned red. Motorists who are already in an intersection when the signal changes to red — while waiting to turn, for example — aren't red light running and are not ticketed.



Is red light running a serious problem?
Drivers who run red lights are responsible for an estimated 260,000 crashes in the U.S. each year, killing over 800 people each year. Nationally, red light running fatalities increased by 15 percent between 1992 and 1997, far outpacing the 6 percent rise in all other fatal crashes. Red light running crashes are also the most likely to cause injury. Occupant injuries occur in 45 percent of red light running crashes, compared with 30 percent for other crash types.



Who runs red lights and why?
All types of people run red lights. The most common reason (47 percent) is just impatience. Red light runners are most likely younger drivers, less likely to use seat belts and have poor driving records, and drive older, smaller vehicles. They are also three times as likely to have multiple speeding convictions. These all mean they are at a "very high-risk" in a red light running collision, and so are the other people they drive into! Motorists who are fatally injured running red lights are much more likely (35 percent) to be over the standard drunken driving threshold (blood alcohol concentration of at least 0.10 percent) than the drivers of other vehicles in these crashes (6 percent).



Isn't conventional police enforcement sufficient?
Enforcing traffic laws in dense urban areas by traditional means poses special difficulties and dangers for police, who in most cases must follow a violating vehicle through a red light to stop it. This can endanger other motorists and pedestrians also, and police can't be everywhere at once. Communities do not have the resources to allow police to patrol intersections as often as would be needed to ticket all red light runners, but camera programs work around the clock and free police to focus on other enforcement needs.



What safety benefits do red light cameras provide?
They have been proven to reduce red light violations, intersection crashes and injuries. Oxnard, California’s red light enforcement program reduced red light running violations by 42 percent. Violations declined about 40 percent also in Fairfax, Virginia, after one year of camera enforcement and also fell at other intersections as motorists became more aware of the need for safe driving. Elsewhere, intersection crashes have fallen by one third and serious injuries fell by 10 percent.



Do the cameras photograph every vehicle passing through an intersection?
No. The cameras 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 are not photographed. This technology is intended to catch vehicles driven by motorists who intentionally enter an intersection well after the signal has turned red.



Does someone review the citation before it is issued?
Yes. Trained Police Officers review each citation before it is issued to ensure that the vehicle is in violation. Tickets are mailed to vehicle owners only in cases where it is clear the vehicle ran the red light and where the photographed driver’s gender matches that of the licensed owner or a licensed driver in their household.



Do red light cameras unreasonably violate privacy?
No. Most people agree that driving on public roads is a regulated activity not just a right. By obtaining a license, motorists agree to abide by certain rules — to obey traffic signals, for example. Neither the law nor common sense suggests that drivers shouldn't be observed on the road or have their violations documented. When citations are issued, the only recognizable person in the photos is the driver – all passenger’s faces have been carefully blocked out.



Does the American public support the use of red light cameras?
Yes. The U.S. public strongly supports the use of red light cameras. Two 1995 surveys sponsored by the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety revealed that nationwide, 66 percent of 1,006 people polled said they favor the use of red light cameras, compared with only 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 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.


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