Every year in the United States, more than 800 people are killed and more than 200,000 injured in accidents involving red light running. Of these casualties, many are passengers in other vehicles or are hapless pedestrians. Accidents engendered by red light running reach astonishing proportions, too, amounting to more than $150 billion in medical and emergency bills, productivity loss, and property destruction.
With such staggering figures, what have many cities opted to do? They set up photo enforcement.
How Photo Enforcement Works
Photo enforcement, while relatively new in the United States, has been in use in Europe and Australia for two decades. This is how it works. Cameras, positioned on a pole about 12 feet high and roughly 80 feet behind the intersection, are connected to wire sensors. These sensors are placed into cuts in the roadway. It is through these wires that electricity travels, creating an electromagnetic field as it does so. Vehicles running over the wire create an interference in the electromagnetic field, thereby triggering the camera.
How do cameras determine which cars and drivers to take pictures of? Another network of wires is set up a few feet away from cameras. These determine the speed of the vehicle crossing the red light. Because these cameras have viewfinders that cover entire intersections, two photos are taken once the sensors are triggered. The first photo shows the vehicle before it enters the intersection. The second shows the vehicle in the intersection. In both photographs, the red light is visible.
Image Capture: During and After
Automated speed enforcement operate on pre-determined speed thresholds, 11 miles per hour over the posted speed limit, for example. Thus, it only captures images of vehicles moving at or exceeding the established speed threshold. When violations occur, the system captures not only the images of the vehicle and the driver, but also the vehicle’s speed data. These are then sent to authorized personnel who review the vehicle’s registration information. The resulting citations are sent to the vehicle’s registered owner through the mail.
Photo Enforcement: Advantages
Perhaps the biggest advantage of photo enforcement is that it is the solution to limited enforcement resources. After all, there are too few traffic cops and simply too many reckless drivers. Additionally, it provides quick physical documentation of the offense and the offender, thereby minimizing red light running and its resulting accidents. Photo enforcement is said to have a behavior modification effect on drivers. Once drivers see red light cameras, they slow down and drive more carefully.
Photo Enforcement: Disadvantages
Photo enforcement, however, is not without its flaws. In fact, its most vehement detractors are drivers who claim that photo enforcement isn’t a tool for safety, but for moneymaking. For drivers, the system’s worst flaw is that it does not make distinctions between vehicle owner and driver. It doesn’t matter who sped through a red light; the vehicle’s owner will get the citation. Another disadvantage is the time lag between infractions and citations. A third comes in the form of prohibitive infrastructure and installment costs. In relation to this, the difficulty in selecting intersections and equipment suppliers may be a big source of headache, too. The final and the biggest drawback to photo enforcement, however, is that it is always coupled with legislative issues. In some states, even, photo enforcement has been declared illegal.
Without public and political support, photo enforcement will never even see the green light in other American states. Clearly, the system has a long way to go before it becomes the unanimously accepted solution to the problem of red light running.