Automated traffic light camera enforcement systems

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Automated traffic light camera enforcement systems are a method of speeding enforcement used to impose violations, most commonly fines, against the violator by taking a photo of the vehicle license plate or driver. This includes various violations such as speeding, going through a red light, or traveling in restricted lanes such as a bus lane. The technology is also used to catch drivers who block intersections or fail to stop at a stop sign, pay a toll, drive past a stopped school bus or disobey a railroad crossing signal. [1] To determine whether a vehicle is speeding or running a red light, common methods include above-ground visual processing such as radar or lidar, as well as in-ground sensors to collect photographic evidence of violations. [2] It is important to note that these traffic light cameras are an additional level to enforcement, but do not replace traditional enforcement policies such as traffic stops and speeding tickets. Since the early 1990s, red light cameras have been used in 26 U.S. states and DC, but some states have decided to prohibit the use. Additionally, fines are not standardized, as they can range from $50 in New York City to over $500 in California.[1]

There are many types of automated traffic light camera enforcement systems. Some bus lane enforcement cameras use a number plate recognition camera, while others have the camera mounted directly on the bus. Red light enforcement cameras take a photo of a car passing through an intersection when the light is red. These cameras can also be used for speed enforcement, and more controversial, stop sign enforcement. Often, jurisdictions treat automated enforcement citations like parking tickets where the registered owner is liable. Just as parking tickets do not result in points or are not recorded on a driver's record, many jurisdictions do not assess points or make a record of automated enforcement citations. [1]



Conceptual Example

Jurisdictions face the problem of dangerous speeding, which is a major contributing factor to motor vehicle crashes. This is especially prevalent on highways, in urban areas, and even in suburban towns with safety concerns at stop signs or traffic lights. Police forces are overwhelmed with traffic obligations to the detriment of performing other important duties. Since police cannot be everywhere at once, drivers may chose to violate a speed limit or red light with no apparent consequences. To combat this, jurisdictions may choose to install automated enforcement systems as a way to improve safety and free police resources in a cost effective manner. This generates automated fines to drivers when an enforcement system finds a traffic violation. As a result, this reduces speed--related, there are decreased incidents of running red lights, the road is significantly safer for all users.

Specific Example

The city of New Orleans has shown much support of the use of traffic cameras, primarily through Mayor Mitch Landrieu who proposed in October of 2016 to install more than 50 traffic cameras to the city streets. Currently, the city has 66 cameras a 42 locations, covering school zones for speeding violations and intersections for red lights and speeding. [3] While this is expensive to implement, the city believes they will raise money through these traffic cameras in the long-run. According to the Deputy Mayor and Chief Administrative Officer Jeff Hebert, it is going to cost about $3 million to run the program, while bringing in $8 million overall. [3] Reactions to this announcement are ongoing, as this is part of the 2017 city budget, but according to Mayor Landrieu's Press Secretary Hayne Rainey, the installation of the first 66 cameras led to reduced speeding tickets by as much as 90 percent and cut red-light running citations in half. [4]

On the contrary, some cities and states staunchly oppose the use of traffic camera enforcement and passed laws to ban them. Cities outside Chicago recently voted in the Illinois House to ban red light cameras in about 35 communities. Opponents of the red light camera policy argue that these are focused on revenue rather than safety, while others contend that drivers can avoid fines by simply following the traffic laws. [5] The Chicago Tribune has been conducting an ongoing investigation since 2015 into the corruption involved in Chicago’s camera program. According to their research, the city has short yellow light intervals that do not follow under national standards and exhibit a large safety threat to both drivers and pedestrians. While this measure has not yet passed through the Senate (as of November 2016), it represents a large community interest in doing away with this system of traffic enforcement.



Tradeoffs of implementing this policy may include:

  1. For cost of program to be self-sustaining, high fine amounts may be required.
  2. Traffic-based placement of cameras may create disparate impacts on different classes of geographically clustered groups.
  3. Reduced privacy with transparency concerns of hidden or unknown traffic cameras.
  4. Potential increases in rear-end crashes when drivers brake suddenly to avoid camera generated tickets.
  5. Negative traffic impact on flow and speed of vehicles due to capacity loss at intersections (e.g. slamming on breaks at a yellow light).
Compatibility Assessment

Compatibility Assessment.png

If answered yes, the following questions indicate superior conditions under which the policy is more likely to be appropriate:

  1. Would installing these cameras result in increased safety to community members?
  2. Can the jurisdiction afford the start up costs of installing cameras?
  3. Can the jurisdiction afford the operating/maintenance costs? In other words, is the program self-sustaining?
  4. Is the technology proposed accurate and precise?
  5. Does the jurisdiction have a sub-optimally high incidence of unsafe vehicle speeds and/or disobeying traffic rules (e.g. running red lights or stop signs)?
  6. Do many of the instances of traffic violations tend to occur at one or more targeted points, or along certain roads?


Assuming that a jurisdiction has decided to adopt the policy, the following questions will need to be answered when determining how to implement this policy:

  1. Is the use of traffic light camera enforcement systems legal in this jurisdiction?
    1. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety maintains a limited list of current State laws that are relevant to automated enforcement on its Web site ( and the National Campaign to Stop Red Light Running maintains a list of pending State legislation that would influence the use of automated enforcement on its Web site (
  2. What should be the fine imposed at a traffic light?
    1. Fines should be sufficient to deter future speeding violations. Since the only consequence is a fine, repeat offenders continue to make the roads unsafe, while for others the fine is enough to change their behavior.
    2. Even a partial improvement in behavior may be welcome. Fines could be income based or based on the sale price of the vehicle
    3. Other options include a graduated scheme (based on income, type of car, etc.) or an upper bound to the fine structure.
    4. The NHTSA provides guidance on determining the fine based on the type of violation. Some offenses are subject to points on a license in addition to a fine. [2]
    5. A combination of fines and license sanctions is consistent with traditional enforcement penalties and the US DOT Speed Management Strategic Initiative [6] recommends this combination as the most effective way to deter speeding.
    6. Policies should be consistent among neighboring jurisdictions to avoid public confusion
  3. What restrictions or specifications are needed to ensure safety?
    1. Speeding-related crashes are the most direct indicator of a safety problem at a particular location.
    2. Cameras can be used to enforce offenses like speeding, running through a red light, and road surveillance.
    3. Operational restrictions would include placing cameras at areas with heavy traffic, or in areas where accidents and violations are common.
    4. Technical requirements or specification might require statewide enforcement programs to maintain drivers understanding of violations.
    5. Testing requirements may include adequate reduction of speeding related collisions, actual enforcement of violation payment, and cost of upkeep of the program.
  4. Which government agencies should be involved in implementation, monitoring, and enforcement?
    1. While some enforcement programs are statewide, many have started in cities or local jurisdictions.
    2. In the US, the federal Department of Transportation sets high-level roadway and vehicle safety standards, while state departments of transportation license operators and register vehicles.
    3. The jurisdiction’s website is a resource that can be used to present information about the monitoring and enforcement program. Information should be easy to find on the Web site by using a search function or by locating it under a logical heading, such as public safety, police department, transportation safety, or recent news. [2]
    4. Traffic cameras should be used to supplement, not replace, other traffic law enforcement activities. Police officers must also be active on roads to deter impaired driving and other criminal activity on roadways. [2]
  5. At what quality will images be captured?
    1. Increased quality of camera images makes the pictures more accurate, but these cost more and might require increased fines in order for the program to be self-sustaining.



  • Notable entities who have implemented or adopted this policy include:











  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Automated enforcement. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Highway Loss Data Institute. November, 2016.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Speed enforcement camera systems operational guidelines. U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. March, 2008.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Plans revealed to add more than 50 traffic cameras to city streets. Bill Capo, CBS News. October, 2016.
  4. The Count: traffic cameras expected to be added to New Orleans streetscapes in 2017 . Alex Woodward, Gambit. October, 2016.
  5. Illinois House votes to ban red light cameras, but not in Chicago. Monique Garcia and Jessie Hellmann, Chicago Tribune. April, 2015.
  6. US DOT Speed Management Strategic Initiative. U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration. 2005.
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