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Red-Light Camera Systems Operational Guidelines

Federal Highway Administration
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

January 2005

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Foreword

red-light running is one of the major causes of crashes, deaths, and injuries at signalized intersections. Most recent crash statistics show that nearly 1,000 Americans were killed and 176,000 were injured in 2003 due to red-light running related crashes. The monetary impact of crashes to our society is approximately $14 billion annually.

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) support a comprehensive approach to intersection safety that incorporates engineering, education, and enforcement countermeasures to prevent red-light running and improve intersection safety. red-light cameras can be a very effective countermeasure to prevent red-light running. There are a number of studies that indicate reduction in crashes at signalized intersections due to red-light cameras. FHWA is promoting red-light cameras as one of its identified priority, market-ready safety technologies.

This document is an update to a previous version dated March 2003 (1). The information contained in this document is intended to foster discussions and initiatives that will improve intersection safety by reducing crashes due to red-light running. This document is not a regulatory requirement and the decision to use red-light cameras is a matter for local decision-makers.


TABLE OF CONTENTS


LIST OF TABLES


CHAPTER I. INTRODUCTION

The use of camera systems for the enforcement of red-light violations at signalized intersections is increasingly widespread in the United States. State and local agencies have found that the use of red-light camera systems can reduce red-light running by motorists and, more importantly, reduce the number of crashes attributable to red-light violations. A recent synthesis of literature on the safety impacts of red-light camera systems found that there was “…a preponderance of evidence, albeit not conclusive, indicating that red-light running camera systems improve the overall safety of intersections where they are used…angle crashes are usually reduced, and, in some situations, rear-end crashes increase, but to a lesser extent.”(2) Furthermore, a recent study of red-light camera systems in seven jurisdictions throughout the US confirmed that these systems are likely to reduce right-angle crashes but can increase rear-end crashes. However, the systems were found to provide an economic benefit of $28,000 to $50,000 at a treated site when considering the economic cost of crashes by crash type (3). The reduction in the number of crashes is especially important as crashes caused by motorists running red-lights are, on the average, more deadly and damaging than other types of crashes at signalized intersections (4, 5, 6).

The purpose of these guidelines is to assist jurisdictions who are considering the implementation of red-light camera systems and help them avoid inconsistent or incorrect application of such systems. Questions have been raised regarding the contracting, design, implementation, operation of red-light camera systems, and the legality and intent of photo enforcement systems. In a broader perspective, for continued use of red-light camera systems and other technologies to improve transportation operations and safety, it is vital these technologies are perceived as accurate and reliable and are applied fairly.

red-light cameras are currently in place in more than 95 communities in the United States. As red-light camera programs continue to be implemented across the nation, there is much to be learned from previous experiences. Traffic engineers, law enforcement officials, and other State and local agency managers can benefit greatly from guidance and research that provides effective and comprehensive procedures for implementing a successful red-light camera program.

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) have developed this operational guideline for use by State and local agencies for the implementation and operation of red-light camera systems. Although not a regulatory requirement, the guideline is intended to provide critical information for State and local agencies on relevant aspects of red-light camera systems in order to promote consistency, proper implementation, and operation; and to ensure that this effective tool and other forms of technology remain available to transportation and enforcement agencies around the nation.

This guideline can be used by State and local agency managers, transportation engineers, and law enforcement officials to identify and properly address safety problems resulting from red-light running within their jurisdiction. This guideline outlines proven and effective practices implemented in the United States, and provides operational guidance that can be followed to ensure that cost-effective solutions are implemented by State and local agencies. The Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) has issued Making Intersections Safer: A Toolbox of Factors and Countermeasures to Prevent red-light Running (7) that discusses in detail many of the issues and practices identified in this document.

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CHAPTER II. UNDERSTANDING OF THE PROBLEM

red-light running and the collisions and injuries that result from it has become a national safety problem. Incidences of red-light running, along with other aggressive driving behaviors, is on the rise. For 2003, the most recent year for which statistics are available, there were 206,000 red-light running crashes, resulting in 934 fatalities and 176,000 injuries (8).

Factors Contributing to Crashes Caused by red-light Running

A number of factors that contribute to crashes caused by red-light running have been identified from research and crash data studies. These factors include namely:

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Driver Behavior

Driver behavior (including speeding and aggressive driving) is the most significant contributing factor to the occurrence of red-light running. Motorists may accelerate when anticipating a change in signal indication, in order to make it through the intersection on the yellow. If a motorist misjudges the time of the signal change, he or she will enter the intersection against the red signal indication.

Motorists driving above the posted speed limit or driving too fast for conditions increase the distance needed to stop before entering intersections and decrease the distance available to react to a change in traffic signal indication. In other words, speeding significantly increases the risk of running a red-light and the possibility of being involved in a crash as a result of running the red-light.

For many drivers, inattentiveness may also be the contributing cause. Drowsiness, conversing with passengers, eating, and use of a cellular phone or other electronic devices are among the many common distractions that cause drivers to reduce their focus on the task of driving. Inattentive or distracted drivers may perceive a change in signal indication late or in some cases not at all. Motorists, perceiving the signal indication late, may not perceive the change in time and run through the red signal.

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Intersection Design and Operation

Deficiencies in the design and configuration of signalized intersections may contribute to red-light violations. Certain design and configuration conditions (geometrics) may provide inadequate stopping distance, may cause motorist to be confused, or limit visibility of traffic control devices. Where these design and configuration conditions can be identified and corrected through engineering improvements, the number of red-light violations can be reduced. Therefore, it is important when considering the use of a red-light camera system, that an engineering study be done to identify potential engineering improvements that could be implemented in the intersection design and configuration. If an engineering study identifies countermeasures that might take considerable time to design and implement, then appropriate short-term temporary solutions should be considered while long-term improvements are investigated and implemented.

An engineering study can identify the following conditions that may be present at a signalized intersection and contribute to red-light running by motorists:

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Vehicle Characteristics

Vehicle characteristics may contribute to red-light running and to crashes resulting from red-light running. Vehicles that carry heavy loads require additional time to slow and stop when a traffic signal changes to yellow (15). Drivers of vehicles with heavy loads may forget or disregard the effect of the loads on stopping distances, and this may result in red-light running.

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Weather

One study has found that weather is not a predictor of red-light running (10). However, it is reasonable to infer that weather conditions such as heavy rain, snow, hail, or high winds may distract drivers, make roadway surfaces slick, and may cause stopping distance to be increased. Inclement weather conditions will likely exacerbate the effects of steep grades, limited sight distances, and high approach speeds. Reduced visibility resulting from severe weather, sun glare, or dust and debris may also prevent a motorist from observing signs, signals, or other traffic control devices in a timely manner. Location and configuration of signals relative to early morning and afternoon sun glare can reduce visibility of signal colors.

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CHAPTER III. PROBLEM IDENTIFICATION

An initial step in determining if red-light camera systems, or any other countermeasure, are to be employed, is to establish if a red-light running and resulting crash problem exists in the jurisdiction in general or at a specific intersection. red-light running and crashes attributable to red-light running may result from a number of contributing factors and, consequently, may be addressed by a variety of countermeasures encompassing engineering improvements, enhanced driver and public education, and increased enforcement. The red-light running problem at any intersection needs to be investigated and the feasibility of all countermeasures, including red-light camera systems, should be addressed.

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Investigating Intersection Safety

A systematic approach to the collection and analysis of various intersection safety-related data is important for the identification of intersections where there is a high incidence of red-light running and for the investigation of countermeasures. The elements of the investigation are described below.

Data Collection

An identification of intersections with high crash rates, public complaints, and those identified by law enforcement as having violation problems, is the first step in improving intersection safety. While complaints or other inputs from motorists and the general public about red-light running at specific locations are helpful, data on crashes resulting from red-light running and the number of red-light violations at signalized intersections are required for an objective assessment of the potential safety problems and an understanding of factors that may be contributing to the problems.

Data for investigating intersection safety may be obtained from the following sources:

Intersection Crash Data

State and local agencies typically collect crash data for injury crashes or crashes where property damage exceeds a pre-determined threshold amount. Generally, data regarding minor non-injury crashes are not collected.

Crash data is the most comprehensive basis for the identification and analysis of red-light running at signalized intersections. The data should be classified with as much detail as possible, including:

red-light Violation Data

An analysis of red-light running violation data may serve as an alternative to the crash data when crash data are not available. This data may be available from records maintained by law enforcement or from special studies collected by video cameras or other means. However, this approach is generally not recommended because the data may reflect targeted enforcement at selected intersections only and the criteria applied by individual officers for issuing citations may vary from one officer to another.

Driver Behavior Observations

Video surveys or field observations may also provide important data on driver behavior and operational conditions at intersections. Conditions such as traffic repeatedly backing up into an intersection from adjacent freeway ramps or intersections, traffic backing into the through lane from the left-turn bay, or high speeds on the intersection approaches may be contributing to red-light violations and to the incidence of crashes attributable to red-light running.

Traffic, Signal, and Intersection-Related Data

Intersection geometry, traffic volumes, and signal timing data are generally available from the State or local agency traffic engineering or public works department. The following data provide necessary information for a rigorous analysis of factors that may be affecting the frequency of crashes attributable to red-light running:

A sample assessment form that can be used as a guide for field inspections of problem sites can be found in Intersection Safety Issue Briefs (16).

Motorist Complaints and Comments

Qualitative means to identify intersections where red-light running is a frequent occurrence should also be employed by State and local agencies. Through the solicitation of inputs from motorists and from the general public, intersections where there are unique or changed conditions or where motorists have witnessed "near misses" that might not otherwise be identified from an analysis of crash data can be considered for further analysis and investigations. Written and oral complaints from motorists may be used as an input for determining intersections where there is a problem with red-light running.

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Engineering Study

The State or local agency considering the use of a red-light camera system should conduct an engineering study to determine the factors contributing to red-light running and to identify appropriate countermeasures that could be implemented to reduce the number of crashes resulting from red-light violations. Once identified, the appropriate effective countermeasures (engineering, education, and enforcement) should be considered in addressing the crash problem.

Section 4C.01 of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) requires that an engineering study be conducted whenever the installation of a traffic signal is being considered (17). After a traffic signal is installed, traffic conditions may change and a high incidence of red-light violations may occur, a changed condition that warrants attention by traffic engineers and traffic safety professionals. Engineering studies should be fully documented in preparation for any questions or concerns about proposed photo enforcement camera installation. The documentation should include a full description of the operation of the intersection, assessed throughout the day. The engineering study must also review pedestrian and bicycle conditions at the intersection. For further discussion on the engineering studies, refer to the MUTCD at http://mutcd.fhwa.dot.gov/. For a complete description of the steps in an engineering study, please refer to ITE’s Manual of Transportation Engineering Studies (18).

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CHAPTER IV. COUNTERMEASURES AND THEIR APPLICATIONS

Over the last decade, considerable efforts have been made to mitigate red-light running behavior by motorists in the United States. Research has shown that engineering improvements (9, 11, 19), safety education and increased enforcement by law enforcement officers (12, 20) can significantly reduce red-light violations. In addition, to supplement traditional law enforcement activities, many jurisdictions have implemented automated enforcement red-light camera systems.

The solution to the problem of red-light running and resulting crashes may require one or a combination of engineering, education, and enforcement measures.

An engineering study should consider each of these possible solutions in order to identify the most appropriate solution to the documented problem at the intersection.

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Engineering Countermeasures

Intersection design deficiencies may contribute to red-light running and crashes at signalized intersections. The deficiencies may be mitigated by engineering improvements of two types: traffic operation (including signal control) improvements, and intersection geometry improvements.

Traffic Operation and Signal Control

At a minimum, retiming of the traffic signal should be analyzed as a red-light running countermeasure. Signal timing should be reviewed regularly to determine if it is still appropriate for the traffic conditions in effect, and changed if the need for a change is indicated. Traffic signal timing, especially the length of the yellow and all-red interval times, should be in accordance with the broad guidelines in the MUTCD (17) and due consideration should be given to the informational report developed by ITE (9), which discusses methods for determining vehicle signal change and clearance intervals. In addition, any applicable State and local agency policies and procedures should also be followed.

The following list identifies possible engineering countermeasures to reduce incidences of red-light running:

Other factors may serve to increase vehicle delays at signalized intersections and contribute to an increased frequency of red-light running. Malfunctioning vehicle detection and signal actuating equipment, long phases or cycle lengths, or the use of protected left turn phases at times of the day when not required may serve to increase delays and, under certain circumstances, may cause motorists to engage in unsafe driving behavior by running red-lights.

Intersection Geometry Changes

Deficiencies in intersection configuration or geometry may increase the number of motorists unintentionally running red-lights. Where intersection geometry deficiencies are identified and can be improved, appropriate changes should be designed, deployed, and evaluated. Design guidelines can be found in AASHTO’s A Policy on Geometric Design of Highways and Streets, 2001 (22) and ITE publications: The Traffic Safety Toolbox: A Primer on Traffic Safety (23), Traffic Engineering Handbook (24), and Toolbox on Intersection Safety and Design (25).

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Education

A well-designed public information and education campaign will assist motorists and the public in understanding the safety issues inherent to red-light running. This campaign should provide information and data that defines the red-light running problem, explains why red-light running is dangerous, and identifies the actions that are currently being undertaken to reduce the incidence of red-light running. One of the key messages for the red-light running education campaign should be the fatality and injury consequences and resulting emotional and economic toll of red-light running. The emotional toll of red-light running to crash victims and their families is quite obvious; however, the indirect economic costs associated with red-light running related crashes in terms of lost productivity, higher insurance premiums, and medical cost, while significant, are often not understood.

An on-going educational program should be designed to combat red-light running, in general, and be delivered in a way so as to communicate the seriousness of the violation and the effectiveness of the countermeasures being employed.

The on-going public information and education program should use various media, such as: posters, mailings, hand-outs, public service announcements on radio and television, warning notices, billboards, warning signs, press releases, slogans, and bumper stickers. The State or local agency should monitor the effectiveness of the educational program and modify it in order to achieve maximum effectiveness. A red-light running education campaign supported by targeted enforcement by law enforcement agencies is a very effective tool. red-light running campaigns should be dovetailed with other traffic safety education and enforcement programs, such as speeding and other forms of aggressive driving.

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Enforcement

Law enforcement officers play an important role enforcing traffic laws and rules of the road violations, which includes red-light violations. red-light camera systems are but one method of monitoring and enforcing red-light violations, others involve the direct use of law enforcement officers. Alternative officer enforcement strategies include:

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CHAPTER V. red-light CAMERA PROGRAM IMPLEMENTATION

A red-light camera system is one of the measures available to traffic engineering, enforcement, and safety professionals, that when properly applied, may be effective in the reduction of certain types of collisions at signalized intersections. red-light camera systems have had the greatest success and highest levels of support in communities where they have been implemented as one element of an overall traffic safety management program. There are several key steps to successfully implementing a red-light camera system program, which is the subject of this chapter.

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Early Planning and Startup

The development of a successful red-light camera program will be based on the systematic analysis of crash data, together with data on citations issued to motorists for red-light running, where available, and inputs from the general public. The objective is to identify locations where red-light running by motorists is contributing to crashes.

The key elements recommended for the early planning and startup of a red-light camera program are as follows:

Steering Committee of Stakeholder Group Representatives

Any community considering the implementation of a red-light camera system should first establish a steering committee inclusive of all stakeholders.

The Steering Committee serves to establish broad based program objectives and to monitor program results. The appropriate participants will vary by community and would typically include representatives from the following organizations:

A high level of quality control and on-going coordination of activities is required for the operation and maintenance of photo enforcement systems. The program also has significant visibility with the community at large and with their elected officials that require coordination to effectively communicate the program’s objectives and program results.

red-light Camera Program Objectives

Early on the Steering Committee should define as clearly as possible the red-light camera program objectives. While it is clear that the overall objective of any red-light camera program is the reduction of collisions at signalized intersections resulting from red-light running, program objectives should address specific operational needs.

Legal Requirements

Prior to initiating a red-light camera program, legal aspects and requirements should be identified. red-light camera systems pose legal questions and concerns, the answers to which may vary from State to State. In particular, privacy, citation distribution, and types of penalties need to be thoroughly addressed and resolved prior to the startup of a red-light camera program.

Presently, there are two approaches that have been adopted by States in the deployment and operation of red-light camera systems:

The National Committee on Uniform Traffic Laws and Ordinances (NCUTLO) developed the "Automated Traffic Law Enforcement Model Law" (26) to offer clear guidance to States considering automated enforcement technology.

Issues arising from legal challenges to automated photo enforcement are presented in Appendix A.

System Procurement Alternatives

There are a number of alternatives available to State and local agencies for the development and operation of red-light camera programs. A State or local agency may take full responsibility for system operations and citation processing functions or elect to outsource these functions to a private contractor. Where a private contractor is responsible for installation and operation of the red-light camera equipment, the State or local agency should establish the necessary procedures so that the agency has complete oversight and day-to-day supervision of the program. Table 1 summarizes selected alternatives for the acquisition, installation, operation, and maintenance of red-light camera systems that are available to State and local agencies.

Where a private contractor is responsible for the processing of citations, compensation to private vendors based on the number of citations issued should be avoided. In multiple jurisdictions, the courts have determined that it is inappropriate for the private contractor to be responsible for determining installation locations and operation of the system because of an appearance of a conflict of interest. This conflict of interest should be avoided in all phases of the system installation and operation: startup, design, installation, operation, and maintenance. At all times, the State or local agency should verify and exercise complete oversight of all actions of the private contractor.

Some agencies are compensating their camera system vendors based on a flat fee per location per time period. Others have installed and operated their own systems. It may also be appropriate to pay a vendor to operate and maintain an agency-designed and -implemented system. Compensation should be based solely on the value of the equipment or the services provided.

Tables 2 and 3 summarize selected contractor payment options.

Public Awareness and Information Campaign

Education on improving traffic safety is a crucial component for any significant change to occur with traffic control systems. Appropriate educational elements should be applied regardless of the chosen solution. For red-light camera programs, often the initial educational program includes issuance of warning citations to likely violators for limited period, and clear public communication of the date on which warning citations will be halted and actual enforcement citations will begin. However, education and media outreach efforts should continue throughout the life of the program to keep the public informed of results and need for safety vigilance. Ongoing awareness of the presence of enforcement measures is key to deterrence and long-term behavior changes.


Table 1. Selected red-light Camera System Acquisition, Installation, Operation, and Maintenance Alternatives

 

Project Planning and Management

Equipment Ownership

Design and Installation

Plan Check and Installation Inspection

Operation and Maintenance

Citation Data Processing

Decision To Issue Citation

Violator Inquires

Public Information Program

OPTION A

State/Local Agency

X

 

 

X

 

 

X

 

 

Private Contractor

 

X

X

 

X

X

 

X

X

OPTION B

State/Local Agency

X

X

 

X

 

 

X

 

 

Private Contractor

 

 

X

 

X

X

 

X

X

OPTION C

State/Local Agency

X

X

X

X

 

 

X

X

X

Private Contractor

 

 

X

 

X

X

 

 

 

OPTION D

State/Local Agency

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

Private Contractor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Table 2. Payment Options for Contractor Owned and Operated red-light Camera Systems

Payment Option

Equipment

Equipment Installation

Equipment Maintenance

Citation Data Processing

Initial Fixed Price Payment

X

X

 

 

Initial Fixed Price Payment and Fixed Monthly Payments

X

X

X

X

Fixed Monthly Payments

X

X

X

X

Initial Fixed Price Payment and Per Citation Payments

 

 

 

 

Per Citation Payments

 

 

 

 

Initial Fixed Price Payment and Fixed Monthly Payment Schedule, Depending On Pre-Determined Low/High Number of Citations Issued

X

X

X

X

Fixed Monthly Payment Schedule, Depending On Pre-Determined Low/High Number of Citations Issued

X

X

X

X

Time Worked and Materials Used

 

 

X

X

Table 3. Payment Options for Agency Owned and Contractor Operated red-light Camera Systems

Payment Option

Equipment Maintenance

Citation Data Processing

Fixed Monthly Payments

X

X

Fixed Monthly/Per Citation Payments

X

X

Per Citation Payments

 

 

Fixed Monthly Payment Schedule, Depending On Pre-Determined Low/High Number of Citations Issued

X

X

Time Worked and Materials Used

X

X


A red-light camera program should not be started without a comprehensive public awareness and information campaign. Research has indicated that public information campaigns are a key to the success of the red-light camera programs (27).

In 1995, FHWA sponsored a study examining the public’s awareness of community-based safety programs. The study concluded that an information campaign needed to accomplish three objectives in connection with the implementation of red-light camera programs. First, public awareness and information should make citizens more aware of their driving habits and safety consequences of running red-light. This should stimulate a voluntary change in behavior at signalized intersections. Second, communications should be through a variety of media with the public and elected officials to explain program objectives, as well as program results. This is critical to gain public support for program expansion. Lastly, public awareness and information should provide motorists with advance warning that there is increased enforcement. This, by itself, may cause a change in driver behavior, but should describe the effectiveness of the systems. Without an effective educational campaign, motorists may be surprised or confused when they receive a citation. If questions or concerns can be effectively answered through written, telephone, or web-based information, motorists receiving citations will be more supportive of the program and less likely to question the program’s overall objectives.

The public awareness and information campaign should encompass the following elements:

The public awareness and information campaign may be developed using the following methods:

Public awareness and information campaigns are frequently used prior to and during the development of a red-light camera program. The campaigns often employ a variety of methods in an effort to reach as many citizens as possible. The extent of the campaigns, however, varies among the jurisdictions where red-light camera systems have been deployed. Table 4 identifies some of the more commonly used methods to increase public awareness and provide information.

Table 4. Public Awareness and Education Campaign Elements Used by Selected red-light Camera Programs

Jurisdiction

Posters

Mailings

Hand outs

Media

Warning Notices

Billboards

Warning Signs

Press Releases

Slogans

Bumper Stickers

Charlotte, NC

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

Fairfax, VA

 

X

 

X

X

 

X

X

 

 

Howard County, MD

X

 

X

X

X

 

X

 

 

 

Lincoln, NE

 

 

 

X

 

X

 

 

 

 

New York City, NY

 

 

 

X

X

 

X

 

 

 

Oxnard, CA

X

 

X

X

 

 

 

 

X

X

Polk County, FL

 

 

 

 

X

 

X

 

 

 

Sacramento, CA

X

 

 

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

San Francisco, CA

 

 

 

X

X

X

X

X

 

X

San Diego, CA

 

X

 

X

 

 

X

X

 

 

An important aspect of the public awareness and information campaign is the direction provided for individuals who received citations on how to review their citation and/or view the photographic evidence.

It is also important for the success of the red-light camera program that traffic court officials, including judges, commissioners, and administrative support personnel, be fully informed about the program scope and operation. Officials who often conduct traffic court hearings may not be fully versed in the operation of the red-light camera equipment. It is important that the appropriate documentation is prepared and submitted in a timely manner in the event an individual contests the citation in court. The increased use of electronic data transfers and viewing may be appropriate to ensure that the court packages are readily available when needed.

Public awareness and educational outreach efforts for employers, schools, driver education programs, and local community groups, as well as the media, are necessary. Reports of program results, emphasizing the achieved safety benefits, should be available and posted on the program web site and local newspapers. The campaign should employ various communications media designed to reach residents and commuters, including regular surveys to gauge public support and awareness, and should focus on a central message of improving traffic safety. An example of a safety message is to emphasize that red-light camera systems can be applied as an effective tool to reduce collisions resulting from red-light running.

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System Planning

Proper planning by a State or local agency will establish the foundation for a successful red-light camera system for detecting and documenting red-light running at signalized intersections. As appropriate, a State or local agency should solicit assistance from other public agencies where red-light camera programs have been successfully deployed, as well as from qualified consulting engineers with experience in red-light camera systems design and operations.

Violations Processing Procedure

The violation processing procedure should address the following aspects of the installation and operation of the red-light camera system, and the processing of the recorded violations and citations issued:

The system design and installation should be consistent with the definition of a violation under the applicable State and/or local laws.

The installation should be consistent with other neighboring intersections under the jurisdiction of the responsible agency, so that vehicle operators are held to a uniform standard throughout the jurisdiction.

Site Selection

Sites selected for the installation of red-light camera systems should be based on accurate crash and red-light violations data. As discussed earlier, data regarding the total number of crashes may be used, although intersections with high numbers of collisions may not have a high number of crashes related to red-light running. Violation data needs to be applied with some caution. Likewise, locations where it is known that there are high numbers of red-light violations may not have corresponding high numbers of crashes related to the red-light running. Heavily traveled intersections where there are heavy left turn movements operated on protected left turn phases are often intersections of this type. Traffic volumes, except when used as a factor to determine the incidence of crashes or violations, are not a suitable measure for selecting locations for the installation of red-light camera systems.

The installation of a red-light camera system at a signalized intersection identified as having a red-light running problem should be done when an engineering study of the intersection determines photo enforcement is an appropriate countermeasure to reduce the incidence of red-light running.

Other criteria for red-light camera system site selection may include recommendations from law enforcement and traffic safety professionals, citizens’ complaints, and input from community groups. These criteria should be considered in conjunction with crash data and violations or citations data.

Undesirable characteristics that will also affect decisions regarding the installation of red-light camera systems include:

When red-light camera systems are in operation, law enforcement officials should place an emphasis on routine enforcement of traffic laws and regulations that require visible and unobstructed display of license plates.

Warning Signs

Signs warning motorists that red-light cameras are being used are typically required by law or ordinance but, whether required or not, should be posted as part of the driver awareness and education process. These warning signs may be placed in the following locations at photo-enforced intersections:

Warning signs placed on all approaches into an area, while used to satisfy legal requirements in some jurisdictions, are appropriate as supplemental warning signs but not as the primary warning for motorists. Advance warning signs should be installed at photo-enforced intersections.

All advance warning signs should be clearly visible and compliant with the MUTCD (17).

Traffic Signal Yellow Times

The MUTCD and ITE recommended practice on the length of yellow interval times provides adequate and proper direction to practitioners. Yellow times should be established in accordance with the MUTCD (17) guidelines and the ITE (9) informational report for methods for calculating yellow time intervals.

Changes in the yellow times after red-light camera systems are in place and operational will affect the number of photographed violations, increasing the number of violations when yellow times are shortened and reducing the number of violations when yellow times are lengthened. Where changes in the yellow times at intersections with red-light camera systems are required as the result of updated speed surveys or other factors, the changes should be clearly described in public information announcements. Providing warning notices for a reasonable amount of time after the change is particularly important for violations recorded at intersections where the yellow interval has been shortened.

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System Selection and Technologies

The most widely used red-light camera systems employ film-based cameras and inductive loop vehicle detection technologies. However, other red-light camera technologies have become available over the past five years, most notably technologies that employ digital camera equipment where photographic data, including streamed video clips, may be immediately downloaded for processing using leased telephone line or microwave communications. Additionally, red-light camera systems that use video-based and radar vehicle detection methods, as well as systems that employ overhead camera placements and floodlighting equipment as an alternative to the curb-based placements, are used by many State and local agencies.

A red-light camera system consists of the following on-the-street components:

Each of these components is reviewed in the following sections.

Camera Unit

There are three general types of cameras units used to automatically record red-light violations. The types of camera units used in red-light camera systems include:

Each type has both pros and cons, as shown in table 5.


Table 5. Camera Units Compared

Camera Unit

Pros

Cons

35 mm

Best resolution

Collection and development of film

Digital Still

Digital format

Ease of use

No film collection or development.

Needs communication links between cameras and processing center

Comparatively poor resolution

Digital Video

Provide video clips of alleged violations

Provides circumstances in which violations occur

Impression of surveillance

Needs communication links between cameras and processing center

Intersection Lighting

Additional intersection lighting is required in conjunction with the operation of the camera units. The additional lighting will need to be installed in accordance with the equipment manufacturer's specifications, as well as with State or local ordinances that govern the amount of lighting that is permitted in the driver's field of view.

For camera units that record violations with one or two photographs or digital images, flash units synchronized with the camera shutter provide additional lighting at the intersection at time of exposure so vehicle license plate and drivers, if local or State law allow, can be more clearly photographed. Typically, one flash unit is installed as an integral part of the camera housing. Additional flash units may be installed at intersections where there are more than two lanes being monitored or to maximize the amount of backlighting in the vehicle interior as it traverses the intersection.

For camera units that record a video clip for each violation, continuous additional lighting will be considered. This may be provided by curb or overhead mounted lighting equipment, as specified by the equipment manufacturer.

Camera Housing and Supporting Structure

The types of camera housing and supporting structures will depend on the type of red-light camera system being installed.

Curb-mounted red-light camera systems, the most common type currently being employed by State and local agencies, need a camera housing enclosure that is mounted on a pole. The camera unit housing should be weather and damage resistant, and contain a locking mechanism to protect the system from vandalism. Additional poles may be employed for auxiliary flash lighting units. For digital camera systems, a separate enclosure for the data storage and communications equipment is also required at the intersection.

The poles for curb-mounted red-light camera systems should be tall enough to provide the necessary angle of view to clearly record violations at the intersection. There are at least two types of poles currently in use. The first, a hinged pole, lowers the camera housing on a hinge located in the center of the pole. A second type, a solid pole, utilizes a motorized “elevator” to raise and lower the camera housing.

Overhead-mounted red-light camera systems normally require curb-mounted poles with cantilever arms extending over the traffic lanes. Camera and flash units are mounted on the cantilever arms as required for system operation. red-light camera systems of this type provide an increased field of view that is especially advantageous for red-light camera systems on wider arterial streets as well as enhanced lighting for enhanced photographic data quality.

Some jurisdictions have found that they can afford only a limited number of red-light camera systems. By installing red-light camera housings at problem intersections, and periodically moving the actual cameras from housing to housing, gives motorists the impression that cameras are omnipresent and reduces red-light violations throughout the community.

Vehicle Detection

Vehicle detectors are used to trigger the camera to record a vehicle running a red-light. Different vehicle detection technologies are available for this purpose.

Most red-light camera systems employ pairs of inductive loops installed near the intersection at a location suitable for showing that a violation has occurred. It is critical for the system design and operation that the inductive loops be installed in the appropriate locations, consistent with the agency's definition of a violation. red-light camera systems may also employ piezoelements, video-based equipment, or radar devices for vehicle detection and tracking, as an alternative to, or in conjunction with, inductive loop detectors.

The placement of the vehicle detectors is critical to the integrity of the red-light camera system and the citations developed from the photographic data.

For red-light camera systems that document violations with two photographs, the first photograph should be taken to show the motor vehicle that will be running the red-light, at a location immediately before it enters the intersection against a red traffic signal indication. The vehicle detection equipment should be configured to detect the presence of the vehicle at the desired location and to initiate the first photograph being taken with the vehicle at that location. If the vehicle is detected after it has already entered the intersection, it cannot be determined with certainty from the photographs that the vehicle entered the intersection illegally and consequently, a citation should not be issued. The second photograph is taken after the vehicle has entered the intersection, at a time interval after the first photograph calculated to provide the best view of the vehicle and its license plate, and where required, the driver's face.

For red-light camera systems that document violations with video clips that show the vehicle running the red-light continuously starting at a location before the vehicle enters the intersection against the red traffic signal indication, vehicle detection should be configured so that the video clip recording is initiated at an appropriate location.

The placement of inductive loop detectors immediately in advance of the intersection stop line for vehicle detection may require that existing stop line loop detectors used for the traffic signal operations need to be abandoned, relocated, or replaced with another type of vehicle detection system, such as video-based detection. Generally, a solution that accommodates vehicle detection requirements for both traffic signal operations and the red-light camera system can be developed although there may be some additional costs for vehicle detection associated with the installation of the red-light camera system equipment under these circumstances.

Communications

For digital camera units, a communications link with adequate bandwidth should be provided from the intersection to a location where the violations data is processed. The required communications may be implemented using State and local agency fiber optics, leased high-capacity telephone lines, or microwave technologies.

No communications outside of the intersection are required for 35mm conventional film camera units.

Communications links are normally required to support certain functions related to citation data processing, including access to vehicle registration and driver's license databases, data transfers to and from traffic court data processing systems, and on-line inquiries or payments from persons receiving citations.

Warning Signs

Refer to page 21 for guidance on warning signs.

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Engineering Design of red-light Camera Systems

The red-light camera system installation plans should be prepared and signed by an appropriately licensed engineer. Installation plans should be prepared in accordance with the system manufacturer's standard plans and technical specifications, and with State and local agency standard plans and specifications for public works and traffic engineering improvements. The plans should address the placement of the red-light camera system equipment and related components, including:

There are currently no standard plans and specifications for the acquisition and installation of red-light camera systems, except for the plans and specifications provided by the manufacturers and standard plans and specifications that have been developed by State and local agencies for their own use and application. The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT), through a cooperative agreement with the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), are developing red-light camera systems performance specifications and testing laboratories to ensure the accuracy and reliability of these systems.

The installation plans should be processed through the appropriate State or local agency plan review and permitting procedures.

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red-light Camera System Installation

Where a contractor does the installation work, the normal construction inspection procedures employed by the State or local agency should be carried out for the installation of the red-light camera equipment. Proper installation includes:

Installations should be thoroughly inspected before testing begins. A comprehensive testing program should then be conducted using both simulated and actual traffic before the system is placed into unattended operation. No warning letters or citations should be issued until it is determined that the system is working accurately and reliably.

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Operation and Maintenance

As with any integrated system, every element of a red-light camera system should function properly for the system to produce the desired results. In addition to proper design and installation, procedures to ensure the proper operation and maintenance of the system should be developed and implemented by the State and local agency.

Proper operation should be consistent with the manufacturer’s instructions and the documented operational procedures that have been developed, reviewed, and approved by all parties involved. Periodic checks and audits to verify that it continues to operate properly should also be conducted.

Proper maintenance should include both preventive and corrective maintenance. Preventive maintenance should be performed on a regular basis. Tests of operational performance should be conducted regularly, and actual operational results examined constantly in order to identify any variation from specified performance. If any flaw in the system operation or performance is detected, the issuance of citations should be immediately stopped and any citations previously issued with the possibility of flawed operation or performance should be withdrawn.

red-light camera system operations and maintenance should include the following tasks and functions:

Citation Data Processing

The procedures and methods employed for system operations should be designed to ensure the preservation of the chain of custody of evidence for each recorded violation so that backup data and documentation can be easily retrieved when needed. The procedures and methods used for system operations should be comprehensive, clearly documented in writing, and followed without exception.

Citation data processing should be carried out in a secured facility using a data processing system with appropriate security features and firewalls. All personnel, especially those with access to motor vehicle registration and driver's license databases, should be cleared with appropriate background checks.

Internal quality control is essential and should be achieved by the use of two separate internal reviews of each violation, periodic audits by independent law enforcement or engineering staff, and other procedures. Procedures, especially important to ensure quality control, should be developed for each of the following areas:

Only a qualified law enforcement officer should be authorized to issue a citation. Citations should not be created prior to review of appropriate evidentiary material by the officer. Under no circumstances should a citation be issued when the officer expresses any lack of confidence that a properly documented and provable violation has occurred.

System Maintenance

Periodic inspections and preventative maintenance should be required to ensure that the equipment is functioning properly. Service and inspection logs should be maintained to document the inspections and preventative maintenance activities. The service and inspection logs may be required at court hearings to confirm that the red-light camera equipment was functioning properly at the time that the violations were recorded.

As part of the periodic preventative maintenance, the camera unit and housing should be thoroughly cleaned and the camera unit activated in its “test” mode and confirmed to be operating correctly. The condition of the camera housing and mounting structure, camera unit, vehicle detection system, and warning signs should be inspected and the conditions noted in the service and inspection logs.

On-Going System Assessment

Continual analysis of violation and crash data, with community input, is an important element of a successful red-light camera program. Adequate funding should be provided to assure the necessary data analysis, problem identification, and problem diagnostic review work tasks are undertaken.

red-light running camera enforcement efforts should be monitored, with adequate pre- and post- installation study periods, in order to measure the program’s effectiveness. Timely collection and reporting of crash data is an important part of the monitoring process, as are control sites with no photo enforcement so the effects of camera enforcement can be distinguished from other external effects.

The steering committee should meet on a regular basis. Regular agenda items should be to review the data of violations and citations issued with a discussion of any changes or trends noted. Input from the State or local agency's traffic engineering department and street maintenance department should include regular updates on planned traffic signal modifications or street improvements construction that could impact the operation of the system. Discussion should be encouraged on whether program objectives are being met through the deployment of red-light camera systems or whether alternative measures should be applied. The group should have input to the regular prioritization of intersections targeted for safety-related improvements.

A monitoring program based on the timely collection and reporting of crash data is needed. These crash data should include control sites with no photo enforcement so that the effects of camera enforcement can be distinguished from other external effects. Responsibilities for the collection and reporting of crash data need to be established and clearly defined. Traffic safety professionals need to review intersection safety issues and conduct diagnostic reviews of intersections identified from the crash data tabulations as warranting safety-related improvements.

Regular reports on the public awareness and information campaign should be prepared and reviewed. Public use of the web site and telephone information systems should be monitored.

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On-going Public Information and Education

An on-going public information and education campaign is needed to assure the motoring public that the red-light running camera program is being operated in the most effective, efficient, and fair manner possible. Public information and education efforts begin before installation, but do not end when the system is fully operational.

The on-going educational program should be designed to combat red-light running, in general, as well as to provide information related to the operation of the red-light camera equipment. Where possible, the on-going public information and education program should be developed and delivered in a way so as to address any specific populations or conditions that have been identified as contributing extensively to the red-light running problem.

The on-going public information and education program should use various media, including the print and broadcast media, to communicate the problem, the program and the results. The agency should monitor the effectiveness of the educational program in order to achieve maximum effectiveness and public support for the red-light camera program.


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