A look at Traffic Enforcement Cameras at Intersections

Red-light cameras have been the subject of much controversy in previous years and as more cities attempt to install the devices the debate is rekindled. Many communities put together petitions to make the decision an issue on the ballot; from there a number of these communities voted against the new device.


One of the first red-light cameras (RLC) was developed by Gatsometer BV, a company based in the Netherlands that produces traffic enforcement devices, and was set off when cars crossed tubes that were placed in the road at intersections.  Over the years, the advancement of other technologies were added to the red light cameras.  By 1997, Gatsometer BV had created the world’s first digital RLC, which would detect cars that ran red-lights or were travelling above the speed limit and would snap a picture of the offenders.

The debate

The debate over these controversial devices is a fierce one that has been waged in hundreds of cities across the United States.  Proponents of the RLCs claim that the revenue collected from red light violations will help save parts of city budgets that may otherwise have their funding cut.  Opponents of the devices point out that the driver of a car may not be the registered owner and therefore would not receive the fine, but the owner of the car would be charged for the driver’s mistakes.  Interestingly, both those against and for the installation of red-light cameras cite public safety as evidence that supports their opinion.


To some, the pros of RLCs are numerous and largely outweigh the cons.  Two of the main benefits that the traffic enforcement devices are said to give: safety and revenue for the city.  In 2007, New York City expected to bring in 13 million dollars and Chicago was said to collect $14 million.  These numbers would obviously be much smaller for less populated communities, but proponents claim that it would be enough to make a difference.  Safety is another large issue for those that support the red-light cameras and there are many studies that back them up in their claim of creating a safer traffic environment.  A study from 2007 conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says that “they [traffic cameras] have reduced side impact accidents by an average of 24 percent and accident injuries by 16 percent,” while a more updated report from 2009 shows “cameras cut down on red-light running by 40% and t-boning accidents by 32%.”  A study focused on the traffic enforcement devices in Virginia led by Nicolas J. Garber reports a decrease in traffic tickets issued since the installation of red-light cameras in Virginia.  This same study, however, can be cited by opponents of the cameras.


Dr. Garber and his team of researchers also show that the traffic cameras caused an increase in the number of rear-end crashes; other studies citing that “rear-end crashes increased by up to 30%.”  To the opponents of the cameras, this is too great of an increase to justify installing the devices.  A second issue that the opponents bring up is the fact that many cameras do not take a picture of the driver, but of the license plate only.  Imagine that a friend of yours needs to borrow your car and, after you lend it to them, they run a red light at an intersection equipped with a traffic enforcement device.  Since the camera only snaps a picture of the license plate, you are the one that will be receiving the citation and you are the one that will have to pay the fine.  As Irv Binder, an electrical contractor who was fined for his employee running a red light, states, “It’s not fair to hold me responsible for someone else’s actions.”