MUNICIPALITIES, TRAFFIC & ROADS
Traffic Light Cameras: Speeding and Red Light Violations
The basics of red light and speed cameras and how they’re used to enforce traffic laws.
In many jurisdictions, cameras are used as a tool to enforce traffic laws. Cameras are also sometimes used to catch drivers who fail to pay tolls, don’t stop for school buses, or disobey railroad crossing signals. But this article discusses two of the more common examples of traffic cameras—red light and speed cameras.
What Are Red Light and Speed Cameras?
Red light cameras. Red light cameras are set up at intersections to catch drivers who run the signal. A sensor estimates the speed of the vehicle as it approaches the intersection. If the vehicle is going a certain speed and won’t be able to stop when the light turns red, the camera is triggered to take a picture and/or video. The red light camera captures the date, time, and location of the violation and the vehicle’s license plate number.
Speed cameras. Speed cameras—which utilize radar equipment that is linked to the camera—are usually set up near school zones or areas where drivers often exceed the speed limit. When the radar detects a vehicle that is exceeding the speed limit, the camera is triggered to take a picture of the vehicle. Speed cameras record the speed of the vehicle, along with the details of the violation (date, time, and location) and the vehicle’s plate number.How States Use Traffic Enforcement Cameras
Laws regarding the use of traffic enforcement cameras vary by state: Some states prohibit their use entirely, the laws of other states don’t address the use of traffic enforcement cameras at all, and many states allow traffic cameras but impose certain restrictions and requirements for their use. For example, Texas allows red light cameras by city ordinance, but speed cameras are prohibited. Many other states allow the use of traffic enforcement cameras but limit their use to certain areas, such as school or construction zones.
In states that allow the use of traffic enforcement cameras, typically, there must be warning signs posted indicating that compliance with traffic laws is enforced with cameras. Generally, these signs must be placed in conspicuous areas, within a certain distance of the signal or along the route where the camera is located.
In states that permit the use of red light cameras, the law normally requires yellow traffic lights to remain yellow for a specific minimum length of time.How Traffic Citations Are Issued
Generally, the police officer who reviews the photograph or video of a violation must sign the citation. The citation is mailed to the registered owner of the vehicle within a certain period of time after the alleged violation. The registered owner will typically receive the citation within ten to 90 days. The citation is sent to the address associated with the vehicle on file with the Department of Motor Vehicles (“DMV”). The registered owner then has a period of time (usually 30 days) to respond to the citation.
Typically, there’s a presumption that the registered owner of the vehicle was the driver when the citation was issued. However, the laws of most states give the registered owner an opportunity to provide evidence that he or she was not the driver. For example, the registered owner might provide an affidavit stating the name and address of the person who was driving the vehicle at the time of the alleged violation. Or, if the vehicle was stolen prior to the alleged violation, the registered owner might provide a police report of the theft.
In some jurisdictions, sending a sworn affidavit to the court is sufficient to have the citation dismissed. Other states require the defendant to appear in court to dispute the ticket.Traffic Camera Citation Penalties
The penalties for a red light or speed camera ticket are typically less severe than for a non-camera traffic citation. Generally, a traffic violation conviction based on a camera enforcement system will result in a fine of $100 or less. And in most states, no points will be added to an offender’s driving record.