A look at Traffic Enforcement Cameras at Intersections

Traffic enforcement cameras are used to reduce the number of deaths and serious injuries that occur each year by photographing, citing and fining drivers who speed, run red lights and violate other traffic laws commonly associated with serious injury and death.

The American Journal of Public Health cites “public indifference to speeding, a false sense of security and the lack of enforcement as leading causes of traffic related injuries and fatalities. The adoption of traffic enforcement cameras increases driver awareness of speed limits, stop lights and other rules of the road, reducing death or serious injury on American roads by 58%.

Who is affected?

The 1999 study conducted at Old Dominion University, A Nationwide Survey of Red-Light Running: Measuring Driver Behaviors for the “Stop Red-Light Running” Program showed that 1 in 3 people know someone who has been injured or killed in an intersection collision, whether by speeding or running a red light or stop sign. The use of traffic enforcement cameras reduces the costs to society. Besides the obvious repair and replacements costs of vehicles involved, these collisions also result in medical expenses that can devastate family finances while bringing higher insurance premiums for everyone. Other costs include emergency personnel, rehabilitation, permanent disability, lost productivity at work and home, legal costs and the long term emotional impact upon victims, their families, friends and employers. The increasing frustration of law-abiding citizens must also be taken into account.

How do traffic enforcement cameras work?

When a car runs a red light, speeds, uses an HOV or bus lane illegally, a camera is triggered that photographs the license plate of the car. Some systems also photograph the driver. The license plate photo may be evaluated by a traffic enforcement officer or it is automatically scanned, identified and a ticket is automatically sent to the vehicle’s registered owner. These cameras use a variety of technologies including radar and street sensors. Generally, one photograph is taken as the car enters the intersection and another while the car is in the intersection, providing documentation of speed, as well as date, time and location of the offense. Revenue generated from citations that would have otherwise not been issued to law breakers is used to offset the cost of camera installation and maintenance, with any money remaining being used for other road safety and police personnel funding.


With speeding as the number one cause of vehicle fatalities in the United States, traffic enforcement cameras provide a cost-effective means of punishing irresponsible drivers without using up valuable law enforcement man hours. Over 3,000 people were killed in California alone due to speeding in 2009. Nationwide, the number was nearly 34,000. It is estimated by the National Highway Traffic Administration (NHTSA) that speeding related crashed cost Americans $40.4 billion each year.

Red light runners

According to a 2008 study by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration, an average of 762 deaths and 165,000 injuries are caused each year due to people who run red lights. Lynnwood, Washington police sergeant W. Davis reports that there are now 190,000 collisions, resulting in 90,000 injuries and 1,000 fatalities each year. With more cars on the road, those numbers are likely to grow even higher without adequate enforcement of traffic laws. Red-light runner traffic enforcement cameras have been shown to reduce collisions by 30%.

Opposition to traffic enforcement cameras

Opponents of traffic enforcement cameras point to issues of privacy, increased number of rear-end accident and the unfairness of citing owners of cars for traffic violations when they are not the one driving. The flaws in these arguments fail to take into account that photographing people in public is not illegal and that driving is a privilege that may be revoked as a result of poor driving decisions. The increase in rear-end accidents is directly related to drivers following too closely, another form of irresponsible driving. The use of traffic enforcement cameras will, in the long run, reduce the number of rear-end accidents, as more people must pay the costs of their poor driving skills. As for the non-driving vehicle owner, it was their initial bad judgement that led to the infraction, making them responsible, at least in part. Owners are also free to collect the traffic violation fee from the person driving, either personally or through small claims court.

Clearly, the benefits of traffic enforcement cameras at intersections far outweigh the cost. Saved lives, reduced injuries, more time for police personnel to provide assistance and investigative skills to other crimes and the overall savings of money and productiveness to society at large make enforcing current traffic laws a worthwhile endeavor. The fact that traffic enforcement cameras often provide cities with extra income in these days of overtaxed budgets can’t hurt either.