Red Light Camera Ticket Facts and Tips

April 9, 2012

Learn how to spot a red light camera, how to fit a red light camera ticket, and how their trigger technology works.

A red light camera is designed to take photographs of cars that speed past a red light. Every year, about 20 percent of car accidents are caused by drivers running red lights. This traffic offense takes away some 800 American lives every year and approximately $7 billion dollars of property is lost. To curb reckless driving behavior, more cities are installing red light cameras. Here are some quick facts about red light cameras.

What Is the Red Light Camera System?

While the red light cameras use sophisticated technology to capture the plate number, the system contains three simple elements: camera, camera trigger, and a built-in computer. The cameras are placed at road intersections on poles several meters high. The cameras are positioned inwards to capture cars driving through the intersection. Cameras are placed on all four corners of the intersection to capture different pictures from different angles. Older systems used film cameras while modern ones use digital cameras.

How Does the Trigger Technology Work?

Trigger technology varies but in essence they fulfill the same purpose. The trigger detects when a vehicle passes by a particular point in the road. Most red lights have trigger sensors located under the road. The computer is the brains behind the trigger. When a speeding car passes by the point, the computer triggers the camera to take two photos. One camera captures the plate while the other camera captures the face of the driver. All the law needs is a photo of the plate to prosecute you in court. The induction loop is the main trigger technology that triggers the red light. The induction loops are wires that are laid out in rectangular loops on top of each other, buried below the asphalt road. A car's heavy metal mass alters the magnetic field around the loop.

How Does a Car Trigger the Camera?

When the traffic light shows green or yellow, the computer ignores the signal in the induction loop and the cameras don't get activated. Once the traffic light turns red, the computer system gets turned on. If the car is already at the middle of the intersection, the computer ignores it. At some places, the system activates a second after the red light comes on, to give drivers a grace period.

There are two induction loops. One loop trigger is located before the intersection and the other loop is located beyond the intersection. When a vehicle moves into the intersection, the induction loop before the intersection gets activated. The moment the vehicle crosses the other induction loop, the cameras immediately take pictures. These pictures provide vital evidence that the car ran the red light. When that happens, the date, time, intersection location and speed of the car get recorded and the computer sends the image to a police computer database. The police then issue a red light camera ticket to the offender.

How to Spot a Red Light Camera

Many cities post signs alerting drivers that there are red light cameras in use at that particular intersection. These signs can be posted from 10 to 500 feet from the intersection. Be aware that some municipalities do not post signs at all. You may also notice extra lines painted in the intersection. These lines are usually painted red and they are used as indicators whether a violation has taken place. A violation is dependent on which side of the red line you are on when the photo was taken.

Red light cameras come in various designs. Some are housed in large square white or silver boxes with the flash located strategically beneath the box attached to the pole. Some cameras have the flash and the camera located within the same box. There are other designs that are smaller and rectangular shaped and look like surveillance cameras. Red light cameras are typically located on tall white or silver metal poles positioned close to the intersection. Some of these cameras are attached to street light poles, if the poles are located in the right position. Some models of red light cameras are positioned on all four corners or a combination thereof, depending on the violation they are attempting to document.

The next time you approach your intersection, look around the area. You may be able to avoid a red light ticket if you know what to look for. The best option, of course, is to avoid running a red light in the first place.

Related Questions and Answers

Is there a Red Light Camera Defense that Can Fight a Ticket?

You can have a red light camera defense for your ticket. There are several that include: the license plate is out of focus; there is mist or dirt on the lens, or that another vehicle is in the same frame and has distorted the view of the license plate which means that you cannot distinguish which plate is on the offending car, and the ticket must be withdrawn. There is another less obvious, but equally, strong defense against a red light ticket, and that is that camera lens is out of focus on the axis of the plate or that the maintenance of the camera and its parts are not up to date. Since it is not up to date, the ticket isn't valid.

Can Red Light Photo Enforcement Ever Be Incorrect?

Red light photo enforcement tends to be correct. However, there are times when it is not. Two examples will suffice: (1) If your car and another vehicle are in the same narrow focus area of the CCD or LED camera used, it is possible that the car actually at fault in this incident could be shielded from view. Because they are in the distance, beyond your car and, even if you roll safely to a stop, if your car is first. you may block the offender. (2) If there are several  cars in the field of the camera at the same time on a rainy or misty night, it is possible for the vehicles or their plates to be shielded by the rain, mist or a dirty lens.

How Can You Find Out Where Red Light Camera Intersections Are?

Increasingly, there are services available on the Internet that list major red light camera intersections. For example, is one of those sites where you simply enter the city, state, street or intersection name and the type of light, and it will appear on a Google map or another type of map provided by the website, and you can find where red light camera intersections are. If you know the URLs, any sites in your area that are run by the DMV or your local police department, you can also find this information. You will probably have to try several Google runs before you can pinpoint the camera site(s) you are seeking.

Are Red Light Camera Systems Illegal in Any States?

Red light camera systems are legal in only 12 states, under contention in five other states, and plainly illegal in 37 other states. The states where red light camera systems are legal include South Dakota, Colorado, Oregon, North Carolina, Iowa, Washington, D.C., Texas, Illinois, Florida, New York, Connecticut, Maine, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and California. The court is studying the matter in California, Texas, New York and Florida and the District of Columbia. California has approved local implementation on a jurisdiction-by-jurisdiction basis until the issue is decided. In Texas, the judges issue fines that are between $1 and $72.