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A red light camera is a traffic enforcement camera that captures an image of a vehicle which has entered an intersection against a red traffic light. By automatically photographing vehicles that run red lights, the camera produces evidence that assists authorities in their enforcement of traffic laws. Generally the camera is triggered when a vehicle enters the intersection after the traffic light has turned red. Typically, a law enforcement official will review the photographic evidence and determine whether a violation occurred. A citation is then usually mailed to the owner of the vehicle found to be in violation of the law. These cameras are used worldwide, in countries including: Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, Singapore and the United States. If a proper identification cannot be made in lieu of a ticket, some police departments send out a notice of violation to the owner of the vehicle, requesting identifying information so that a ticket may later be issued.
There is debate and ongoing research about the use of red light cameras. Authorities cite public safety as the primary reason that the cameras are installed, while opponents contend their use is more for financial gain than for safety.
Red light cameras were first developed in the Netherlands. Worldwide, red light cameras have been in use since the 1960s, and were used for traffic enforcement in Israel as early as 1969. The first red light camera system was introduced in 1965, using tubes stretched across the road to detect the violation and subsequently trigger the camera. One of the first developers of these red light camera systems was Gatsometer BV.
The cameras first received serious attention in the United States in the 1980s following a highly publicized crash in 1982, involving a red light runner who collided with an 18-month-old girl in a stroller (or "push-chair") in New York City. Subsequently, a community group worked with the city’s Department of Transportation to research automated law enforcement systems to identify and ticket drivers who run red lights. New York's red-light camera program went into effect in 1993. From the 1980s onward, red light camera usage expanded worldwide and one of the early camera system developers, Poltech International, supplied Australia, Britain, South Africa, Taiwan, the Netherlands and Hong Kong. American Traffic Systems (subsequently American Traffic Solutions) (ATS) and Redflex Traffic Systems emerged as the primary suppliers of red light camera systems in the US, while Jenoptik became the leading provider of red light cameras worldwide.
Initially, all red light camera systems used film, which was delivered to local law enforcement departments for review and approval. The first digital camera system was introduced in Canberra in December 2000, and digital cameras have increasingly replaced the older film cameras in other locations since then.
Red light cameras are typically installed in protective metal boxes attached to poles at intersections, which are often specifically chosen due to high numbers of crashes and/or red light running violations. Red light camera systems typically employ two closely spaced inductive loops embedded in the pavement just before the limit line, to measure the speed of vehicles. Using the speed measured, the system predicts if a particular vehicle will not be able to stop before entering the intersection, and takes two photographs of the event. The first photo shows the vehicle just before it enters the intersection, with the light showing red, and the second photo, taken a second or two later, shows the vehicle when it is in the intersection.
Details that may be recorded by the camera system (and later presented to the vehicle owner) include: the date and time; the location; the vehicle speed, and the amount of time elapsed since the light turned red and the vehicle passed into the intersection. The event is captured as a series of photographs or a video clip, or both, depending on the technology used, which shows the vehicle before it enters the intersection on a red light signal and its progress through the intersection. The data and images, whether digital or developed from film, are sent to the relevant law enforcement agency. There, the information is typically reviewed by a law enforcement official or police department clerk who determines if a violation occurred and, if so, approves issuing a citation to the vehicle owner who may challenge the citation.
Studies have show that 38% of violations occur within 0.25 seconds of the light turning red and 79% within one second. A few red light camera systems allow a "grace period" of up to half a second for drivers who pass through the intersection just as the light turns red. Ohio and Georgia introduced a statute requiring that one second be added to the standard yellow time of any intersection that has a red light camera which has led to an 80% reduction in tickets since it's introduction. New Jersey has the strictest yellow timing provisions in the country as a result of concerns that cameras would be used to generate revenue, they have a statute specifying that the yellow time for an intersection that has a red light camera must be based on the speed at which 85% of the road's traffic moves rather than be based on the road's actual speed limit.
Red light camera usage is widespread in a number of countries worldwide. Netherlands-based Gatso presented red light cameras to the market in 1965, and red light cameras were used for traffic enforcement in Israel as early as 1969. In the early 1970s, red light cameras were used for traffic enforcement in at least one jurisdiction in Europe. Australia began to use them on a wide scale in the 1980s. As of July 21, 2010 [update], expansion of red light camera usage in Australia is ongoing. In some areas of Australia where the red light cameras are used there is an online system to check the photograph taken of your vehicle if you receive a ticket. Singapore also began use of red light cameras in the 1980s, and installed the first camera systems over five years, starting in August 1986. In Canada, by 1998, red light cameras were in use in British Columbia and due to be implemented in Manitoba. In Alberta, red light cameras were installed in 1999 in Edmonton and in 2001 in Calgary. The UK first installed cameras in the 1990s, with the earliest locations including eight rail crossings in Scotland where there was greatest demand for enforcement of traffic signals due to fatalities.
In Hong Kong, where red light cameras are installed, signs are erected to warn drivers that cameras are present, with the aim of educating drivers to stop for signals. The number of red light cameras in Hong Kong doubled in May 2004, and digital red light cameras were introduced at intersections identified by the police and transport department as having the most violations and greatest risk. The digital cameras were introduced to further deter red light running. As added assistance to drivers, some of the camera posts were painted orange so that drivers could see them more easily. By 2006, Hong Kong had 96 red light cameras in operation.
In the United Kingdom the authorities often refer to red-light cameras, along with speed cameras, as safety cameras. They were first used in the early 1990s, with initial deployment by the Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions. All costs were paid by the local authority in which the individual camera was placed and revenues accrued from fines were paid to the Treasury Consolidated Fund. In 1998 the government handed the powers of collection to local road safety partnerships, comprising "... local authorities, Magistrates’ Courts, the Highways Agency and the police."
In a report, published in December 2005, there were a total of 612 red light cameras in England alone, of which 225 were in London.
Since the early 1990s, red light cameras have been used in the United States in 26 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. Within some states, the cameras may only be permitted in certain areas. For example, in New York State, the Vehicle and Traffic Law permits red light cameras only within cities with a population above 1 million. In Florida, a state law went into effect on July 1, 2010, which allows all municipalities in the state to use red light cameras on all state-owned right-of-ways and fine drivers who run red lights, with the aim of enforcing safe driving, according to then-Governor Charlie Crist. The name given to the state law is the Mark Wandall Traffic Safety Act, named for a man who was killed in 2003 by a motorist who ran a red light. In addition to allowing the use of cameras, the law also standardizes driver fines. Major cities throughout the US that use red light cameras include Atlanta, Austin, Baltimore, Baton Rouge, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Miami, New Orleans, New York City, Newark, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Raleigh, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, Toledo and Washington, D.C. Albuquerque has cameras, but in October 2011 local voters approved a ballot measure advising the city council to cease authorizing the red light camera program. The City of Albuquerque ended its red light program on December 31, 2011. Suppliers of red-light cameras in the US include: Affiliated Computer Services (ACS) State and Local Solutions, a Xerox company, of Dallas, Texas; American Traffic Solutions of Scottsdale, Arizona, 1/3 owned by Goldman Sachs; Brekford International Corp., of Hanover, Maryland; CMA Consulting Services, Inc. of Latham, New York; Gatso USA of Beverly, Massachusetts; iTraffic Safety LLC of Ridgeland, South Carolina; Optotraffic, of Lanham, Maryland; Redflex Traffic Systems of Phoenix, Arizona, with its parent company in Australia; RedSpeed-Illinois LLC, of Lombard, Illinois, whose parent company is in Worcestershire, England; SafeSpeed LLC, of Chicago, Illinois, and SENSYS America Inc., of Miami, Florida.
In February 2012, the red light camera ordinance in the city of St. Louis was officially declared void by St. Louis Circuit Court Judge Mark Neill. On August 9, 2012, the Cary, North Carolina town council voted to end their program.
In the United States, fines are not standardized and vary to a great degree, from $50 in New York City to approximately $500 in California. The cost in California can increase to approximately $600 if the motorist elects to attend traffic school in order to avoid having a demerit point added to his or her driving record.
In many California police departments, when a positive identification cannot be made, the registered owner of the vehicle will be mailed a notice of traffic violation instead of a real ticket. Also known as "snitch tickets," these notices are used to request identifying information about the driver of the vehicle during the alleged violation. Because these notices have not been filed at court, they carry no legal weight and the registered owner is under no obligation to respond. In California, a genuine ticket will bear the name and address of the local branch of the Superior Court and direct the recipient to contact that Court. In contrast, a notice of traffic violation generated by the police will omit court information, using statements like "This is not a notice to appear" and "Do not forward this information to the Court."
In Chicago, Illinois, violation videos are uploaded to the City of Chicago's website at cityofchicago.org. A notice of violation is also sent to the driver via mail.
Also, many communities in the US upload violation videos prior to notification to driver and offer online payment of red light tickets at payonlineticket.com.
Privacy complaints include having the number of page views recorded.
Commercial complaints are that payment is not made to the community and the community only gets a percentage of the fine.
A report in 2003 by the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) examined studies from the previous 30 years in Australia, the UK, Singapore and the US, and concluded that red light cameras "improve the overall safety of intersections where they are used." While the report states that evidence is not conclusive (partly due to flaws in the studies), the majority of studies show a reduction in angle crashes, a smaller increase in rear-end crashes, with some evidence of a “spillover” effect of reduced red light running to other intersections within a jurisdiction. These findings are similar to a 2005 meta analysis, which compared the results of 10 controlled before-after studies of red light cameras in the US, Australia and Singapore. The analysis stated that the studies showed a reduction in crashes (up to almost 30%) in which there were injuries, however, evidence was less conclusive for a reduction in total collisions. Studies of red light cameras worldwide show a reduction of crashes involving injury by about 25% to 30%, taking into account increases in rear-end crashes, according to testimony from a meeting of the Virginia House of Delegates Militia, Police, and Public Safety Committee in 2003. These findings are supported by a review of more than 45 international studies carried out in 2010, which found that red light cameras reduce red light violation rates, crashes resulting from red light running, and usually reduce right-angle collisions.
In terms of location-specific studies, in Singapore a study from 2003 found that there was "a substantial drop" in red light violations at intersections with red light cameras. In particular the study found that drivers were encouraged to stop more readily in areas with red light cameras in use. A report from civic administrators in Saskatchewan in 2001, when considering red light camera use, referred to studies in the Netherlands and Australia that found a 40% decrease in red light violations and 32% decrease in right-angle crashes where red light cameras were installed. Following the introduction of red light cameras in Western Australia, the number of serious right-angle crashes decreased by 40%, according to an article from the Canberra Times. In an article from the Xinhua General News Service, the Hong Kong transport department reported that in 2006 the monthly average number of crashes due to red light violations fell 25% and the number of people injured in these crashes decreased by 30%, following an increase in the number of red light cameras in use.
In the U.S. and Canada, a number of studies have examined whether red light cameras produce a safety benefit. A 2005 study by the U.S. Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) suggests red light cameras reduce dangerous right-angle crashes. This study also found there can be an increase in the number of rear-end collisions, leading to the total number of collisions remaining unchanged. This FHWA study has been criticized on grounds that one of its co-directors has performed research for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), a private corporation representing the auto insurance industry that profits significantly from insurance surcharges on drivers ticketed by red light cameras. The FHWA study has also been criticized as containing critical methodological and analytical flaws and failing to explain an increase in fatalities associated with red light camera use:
(…)the authors spotlight the statistical difficulties of including the cost of fatalities, while ignoring the practical implications of such events (…) assuming that each angle injury crash had a societal cost of $64,468, when in fact the cost was $82,816 before camera use and $100,176 after camera use(…)
IIHS research on the safety effects of red light cameras has also been criticized as biased and methodologically flawed.
Not all studies have been favorable to the use of red light cameras. A 2004 study of 17,271 crashes from North Carolina A & T University showed that the presence of red light cameras increased the overall number of crashes by 40%. This research received no peer review and is considered flawed by the IIHS. A 2005 Virginia Department of Transportation study of the long-term effects of camera enforcement in the state found a decrease in the number of right-angle crashes with injuries, but an increase in rear-end crashes and an overall increase in the number of crashes causing injuries. In 2007, the department issued an updated report which showed that the overall number of crashes at intersections with red light cameras increased. This report concluded that the decision to install red light cameras should be made on an intersection-by-intersection basis as some intersections saw decreases in crashes and injuries that justified the use of red light cameras, while others saw increases in crashes, indicating that the cameras were not suitable in that location. This study, too, is considered flawed by the IIHS. Aurora, Colorado experienced mixed results with red light cameras; after starting camera enforcement at 4 intersections, crashes decreased by 60% at one, increased 100% at two, and increased 175% at the fourth. According to the IIHS, most studies suggest the increase in rear-end collisions decreases once drivers have become accustomed to the new dynamics of the intersection. Some locations experience a decrease in rear-end collisions at intersections with red light cameras over time, for instance, in Los Angeles such collisions fell 4.7% from 2008 to 2009. However, a 2010 analysis by the Los Angeles City Controller found L.A.'s red light cameras hadn't demonstrated an improvement in safety, specifically that of the 32 intersections equipped with cameras, 12 saw more crashes than before the cameras were installed, 4 had the same number, and 16 had fewer crashes; also that factors other than the cameras may have been responsible for the reduced crashes at the 16 intersections. And in Winnipeg, Manitoba, crashes were found to have significantly increased in the years following the deployment of red light cameras. In 2010, Arizona completed a study of their statewide 76 photo enforcement cameras and decided they would not renew the program in 2011; lower revenue than expected, mixed public acceptance and mixed accident data were cited.
Nevertheless, the FHWA has concluded that the cameras yielded a positive overall cost benefit due to the reduction in more expensive right-angle injury collisions. Other studies have found a greater crash reduction. For example, a 2005 study of the Raleigh, North Carolina, red light camera program conducted by the Institute for Transportation Research and Education at North Carolina State University found right-angle crashes dropped by 42%, rear-end crashes dropped by 25% and total crashes dropped by 17%. In 2010, the IIHS looked at results of a number of studies and found that red light cameras reduce total collisions and particularly reduce the type of crashes that are especially likely to cause injuries. A 2011 IIHS report concluded that the rate of fatal collisions involving red-light running in cities with a population of 200,000 or greater was 24% lower with cameras than it would have been without cameras.
In the US, the red light camera industry has invested heavily in efforts to lead public opinion. They have made extensive use of Astroturfing, and have distributed poll results showing heavy public support of red light cameras, often without making a prominent disclosure that those polls were commissioned by themselves or their paid lobbyists.
Despite the industry's efforts, as of the November 2011 elections, photo enforcement in the US had been defeated in 22 of 23 election contests.
Groups who believe that red light cameras reduce crashes and increase safety have formed lobbying groups such as the "Stop Red Light Running Coalition of Florida," which was created to lobby for a state law in Florida allowing red light cameras to be used. Some of these lobbying groups have ties to the red light camera industry. For example, a board member of the Stop… Florida group is Ron Reagan, who is Treasurer of American Traffic Solutions front group the National Coalition for Safer Roads.
There are also various groups and individuals, such as the National Motorists Association, who oppose red light cameras on the grounds that the use of these devices raises legal issues and violates the privacy of citizens. They also argue that the use of red light cameras does not increase safety. In the US, AAA Auto Club South argued against the passage of a Florida state law to allow red light cameras, stating that use of red light cameras was primarily for raising money for the state and local government coffers and would not increase road safety.
In Norway, Spain and the Netherlands, a postal survey in 2003 showed acceptance of the use of red light cameras for traffic enforcement. For some groups, the enforcement of traffic laws is considered the main reason for using the red light cameras. For example, a report from civic administrators in Canada's Saskatoon in 2001 described the cameras as "simply an enforcement tool used to penalize motorists that fail to stop for red traffic signals."
As of December 2010[update] Arkansas, Nebraska, Mississippi, Nevada, New Jersey, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin have enacted various prohibitions on red light, speed or other photo enforcement camera uses. Restrictions or conditions exist in additional states; the New Mexico Department of Transportation, for example, has asserted the right to restrict or prohibit red light cameras on state highways. In states such as Wisconsin, the ban comes from decisions by state supreme courts declaring that the cameras were unconstitutional. While red light cameras may not be prohibited in other regions, they may have some restrictions on their use. In some jurisdictions, the law says that the camera needs to obtain a photo of the driver's face in order for the citation issued for running the red light to be valid. This is the case in California, Arizona, and Colorado where the red light cameras are set up to take a series of photographs, including one of the driver's face. In California, state law assesses a demerit point against a driver who runs a red light, and the need to identify the actual violator has led to the creation of a unique investigatory tool, the fake "ticket." Groups opposing the use of red light cameras have argued that where the cameras are not set up to identify the vehicle driver, owner liability issues are raised. It is perceived by some that the owner of the vehicle is unfairly penalized by being considered liable for red-light violations although they may not have been the driver at the time of the offense. In most jurisdictions the liability for red light violations is a civil offense, rather than a criminal citation, issued upon the vehicle owner—similar to a parking ticket. The issue of owner liability has been addressed in the US courts, with a ruling in the District of Columbia Court of Appeals in 2007, which agreed with a lower court when it found that the presumption of liability of the owners of vehicles issued citations does not violate due process rights. This ruling was supported by a 2009 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in which it was held that issuing citations to vehicle owners (or lessees) is constitutional. The court stated that it also encourages drivers to be cautious in lending their vehicles to others.
The argument that red light cameras violate the privacy of citizens, has also been addressed in the US courts. According to a 2009 ruling by the 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals, “no one has a fundamental right to run a red light or avoid being seen by a camera on a public street.” In addition, cameras only take photographs or video when a vehicle has run a red light and, in most states, the camera does not photograph the driver or the occupants of the vehicle.
In most areas, red light enforcement cameras are installed and maintained by private firms. Lawsuits have been raised challenging private companies' rights to hand out citations, such as a December 2008 lawsuit challenging the city of Dallas' red light camera program, which was dismissed in March 2009. In most cases, citations are issued by law enforcement officers using the evidence provided by the companies.
There have been many instances where cities in the US have been found to have too-short yellow light intervals at some intersections where red light cameras have been installed. In Tennessee, 176 drivers were refunded for fines paid after it was discovered that the length of the yellow was too short for that location, and motorists were caught running the light in the first second of the red phase. In California, a combined total of 7603 tickets were refunded or dismissed by the cities of Bakersfield, Costa Mesa, East LA, San Carlos, and Union City, because of too-short yellows. Although national guidelines addressing the length of traffic signals are available, traffic signal phase times are determined by the government employees of the city, county or state for that signalized location. While some states set jurisdiction-wide constant durations for yellow light intervals, a new standard is taking hold. States are required to adopt the 2009 National Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) as their legal state standard for traffic control devices in 2011. These standards require engineering practices to be used to set yellow light timing durations at individual intersections and or corridors. For guidance to state authorities, MUTCD states yellow lights should have a minimum duration of 3 seconds and a maximum duration of 6 seconds. The deadline for compliance is 2014. In the US, if any part of a driver's vehicle has already passed into the intersection when the signal turns red, a violation is not generated. A ticket is only issued if the vehicle enters the intersection while the light is red.
A red light camera is not the only countermeasure against red-light running. Others include increasing the visibility distance and conspicuity of the traffic light so it is more likely to attract the driver's attention in time for him or her to stop, re-timing lights so drivers will encounter fewer red ones increasing the duration of the yellow light between the green and the red, adding a "clearance" phase to the intersection's traffic signals during which all directions have a red light. It has been posited that the regulatory minimum yellow duration has been decreased over the years, that this is a cause of the increase in red-light running, and that the latter countermeasures amount to a reversion to earlier, longer regulated yellow light durations.
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