Red-Light Cameras: Enhancing Safety and Reducing Crashes on the Roads



Surveys show that drivers in many cities in which red-light cameras are used tend to support them.

Photo: Canva/Automotive Fleet


The days of keeping a radar detector on your dashboard and knowing where police speed traps are located are long gone.

Traffic law enforcement has changed significantly over the last few decades, becoming automated and more sophisticated in the process — all with a goal of keeping you safer behind the wheel.

As traffic volume has increased, especially in suburban areas where property development is on the rise, the traditional means of law enforcement are no longer enough.

The number of drivers and the number of miles they travel annually has risen faster than the number of police officers available to monitor and enforce traffic laws.

In addition to growing demand, law enforcement staffing has also been strained by budget cuts and economic pressures.

Those realities have prompted many municipalities to turn to automated traffic enforcement techniques. And it can benefit commercial fleets.

How Technology Automates Traffic Enforcement

Automated traffic enforcement measures offer a variety of advantages for the jurisdictions that use them:

Keeping Officers Safe

In some areas, such as heavily congested roads, it’s hard for the officer or the driver to pull over safely for speeding violations. Technologies like speed cameras help eliminate that issue.

Avoiding Potential Subjectivity

Unlike the testimony of an officer, which can be seen as subjective in some cases, technological evidence is often viewed as objective and therefore more difficult to refute.

Practicality for Public Safety

As more police are assigned to functions deemed high priority, such as the pursuit of violent criminals and homeland security tasks, some cities and towns see it as a practical matter to add automated traffic enforcement.

Depending on where you live and drive, you may encounter any of the following types of automated traffic enforcement measures:

  • Speed cameras – used to detect drivers exceeding the speed limit by more than a minimum number of miles.
  • Red-light cameras – detect drivers who run red lights at intersections.
  • Toll booth cameras – detect drivers who don’t pay a toll.
  • Bus lane cameras – to detect other types of vehicles traveling in a lane designated for buses only.
  • High-occupancy vehicle lane cameras – detect vehicles that violate the minimum passenger occupancy requirement for those lanes.
  • Stop sign cameras – used in very limited areas to detect stop sign runners.
  • Turn cameras – detect vehicles turning right on red in areas where it is prohibited.
  • Number plate recognition systems – read and store vehicle license plate numbers, often in conjunction with camera systems.

Automated traffic enforcement measures like these have been proven to help reduce crashes and the many deaths and injuries they cause on roadways each year.

Yet, despite these benefits, not all members of the public are in favor of these tools.

The Court of Public Opinion

Some opponents argue that the use of automated enforcement is motivated by a jurisdiction’s desire to generate revenue, not an interest in reducing crashes. But in reality, many camera sites use prominent signage to alert drivers, a tactic that’s designed to reduce violations.

If the presence of cameras works effectively, it actually reduces revenue that would otherwise be brought in from citations.

The Philadelphia Parking Authority, for example, reports annually on the number of red-light camera violations at each intersection from their inception date to present. The goal of the Red Light Camera Program is to encourage safe driving so that the walking, driving, and riding public can commute without the risk of accidents or fatalities.

To further reach this goal, the Philadelphia Parking Authority reiterates the following:

  • Consider increasing the penalty for red-light camera violations from $100 to a base fine of $150 to further deter violations. The statutory penalty for violations has remained the same since enactment of Act 123 of 2002. It is believed that increasing the fine will further reduce violations.
  • Further cooperation between the Department of Transportation, the City, and the PPA to add additional intersections to the Red Light Camera Program based upon empirical data developed through a Vehicle Incident Monitoring System (VIMS) study.

In FY 2023, the program delivered $14,791,780 to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation’s Transportation Enhancements Grant Program. This fund provides transportation safety related grants throughout the Commonwealth.

Approximately half of those funds are used for safety improvements in Philadelphia. Other opponents question the accuracy of these technologies.

But in the case of traffic enforcement cameras, for example, state laws require the equipment to meet certain standards and to be maintained regularly.

If a driver argues a citation, he or she can request a test to ensure that the equipment has been properly used and maintained.

Additionally, some citizens believe the cameras violate their privacy.

But while the U.S. Constitution protects citizens’ ‘rights to privacy from unreasonable intrusion by law enforcement, a landmark case noted that the protection is for actions kept private, not public actions — such as driving.

And according to implied consent laws, the driver agrees to abide by traffic safety laws as part of the privilege of having a driver’s license.

Surveys Reveal Most are in Favor

While opponents are often vocal, surveys show that drivers in many cities in which these measures are used tend to support them. Here are some findings from surveys conducted in recent years.

Whether you agree with the use of automated traffic enforcement, its presence is a reality and its use is likely to grow.

Proof Positive

Utilization of safety features such as a backup camera adds a 360-degree view but should not be solely relied on when getting a better view.

Around the world, automated traffic enforcement is helping to keep drivers and their passengers safer on the road.

In the United Kingdom, where speed cameras have been used much longer than in the U.S., an evaluation of camera use in 38 areas over a four-year period found the devices reduced deaths and serious injuries by 42% (UK Department for Transport).

As you drive through an intersection, cameras may be watching.

Almost two-thirds of Americans see someone run a red light regularly — at least several times a week, according to one survey. Red light runners cause hundreds of deaths and tens of thousands of injuries each year.

Reducing the Risk

Red-light cameras are meant to reduce the high incidence of crashes, deaths, and injuries resulting from this dangerous behavior. They’re used in as many as 500 municipalities in the U.S., according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), and in several Canadian municipalities, including Edmonton and Ottawa, according to Transport Canada.

The devices are usually mounted above the traffic light and connected to both the light and a sensor that monitors traffic just before the crosswalk or stop line.

A separate computer activates the camera based on information from the sensors, triggering the camera to photograph any vehicle that doesn’t stop while the light is red. Some programs offer a grace period of half a second after the light turns red.

The technology can vary — from cameras that shoot a series of still photos to those that videotape the vehicle as it proceeds through the intersection.

The cameras record the date and time, the vehicle’s speed, and license plate number, and how much time has elapsed since the light turned red.

In most programs, citations are sent to the registered vehicle owner, though there is often a mechanism for the driver to notify authorities if they weren’t driving at the time of the violation.

Other programs make the vehicle owner responsible regardless of whether they were driving.

These citations can assist fleet managers in ensuring their drivers comply with traffic regulations. When a driver receives a citation for running a red light, their fleet manager can use it as a learning opportunity so the behavior is not repeated.

Operating a fleet with a strong commitment to safety and compliance can also positively impact a company’s reputation. 

Saving Lives

Safety is the responsibility of every driver that takes to the road. Drivers face potential dangers each time they share the road with other drivers. Each year sees an increase in the number of crashes because of drivers running red lights across the country.

These cameras were introduced to reduce the number of drivers running red lights and causing crashes among fleets and other drivers alike.

Red-light cameras also maximize police presence without requiring police officers to be physically present at the scene.

IIHS conducted a study about the benefits of having red-light traffic cameras. Their conclusions: using traffic cameras at red lights was safe, effective, and discouraged drivers from running a red light. Decreasing the rate of drivers running red lights is directly related to making traffic safer for everyone on the road.

IIHS found that having traffic cameras present at red lights made traffic safer because cameras caused drivers to follow the rules of the road and slow down instead of trying to speed up and beat the light.

This article was authored and edited according to Automotive Fleet’s editorial standards and style. Opinions expressed may not reflect that of Automotive Fleet.



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