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FHWA Home / Safety / Intersection / Red-Light Camera Enforcement: Implementation Guidance

Red-Light Camera Enforcement: Implementation Guidance

The implementation of red-light cameras for enforcement is not simply a "plug and play" activity. It requires a considerable amount of effort, coordination, and cooperation to be put into use and to be operationally successful. The following sections briefly introduce some of the implementation issues that should be considered.


Any jurisdiction considering the use of red-light cameras should first begin by considering the actors who will be involved and how to involve them as partners early in the process. The natural partners to consider could be some or all of the following: the police, the transportation or road department, the judiciary, the legislature, media, and other jurisdictions in the area that may be involved in the use of red-light cameras. The sooner they are involved, the sooner they can be informed of the benefits of such an activity, and the more likely it is that a program can be well-planned and successful.

Enabling Legislation

As discussed earlier, a jurisdiction that wants to begin using red-light cameras cannot usually just install a camera and start issuing tickets. It requires legislation at either a State or local level. The legislation can cover myriad issues, but generally must address the issue of mailing tickets for a traffic offense rather than issuing them in person when a person is physically stopped on the roadway.


The use of red-light cameras truly requires the "Three Es" of road safety: Engineering, Education and Enforcement. In this case, public education is crucial to accomplish a number of things. First, to alert the public to the issue through public service announcements and seek voluntary change in behavior at signalized intersections. Second, to gain public support, which is critical to successful red-light camera implementation. Third, to alert motorists to the increased level of enforcement (sometimes the threat of enforcement is sufficient to change unsafe behavior). And finally, to sufficiently educate the public on how the system works so that motorists are not surprised or confused when they receive a ticket in the mail. In addition to educating the public, it is often essential to educate police officials, legislators and the judiciary to the merits of red-light cameras and to assuage their concerns as to the viability of such a system.

Choosing a Camera System

A large implementation issue revolves around the type of camera system chosen for red-light enforcement. Specific issues of cost (both of the system and its operation/maintenance), reliability, evidentiary credibility, and quality can all effect a decision. As another example, consider digital cameras. A jurisdiction may choose not to use digital still or video cameras until other locations have experimented with them and established that they are in fact feasible alternatives to traditional camera (wet film) systems.


The judiciary is critical to a successful red-light camera program from the development of legislation to the choice of camera right down to the processing of violations. It is therefore important for them to be involved as early on in the process as possible and to be champions for the effort. Another reason to involve them is to ensure that they are prepared when the red-light camera system goes into place to support the prosecution of the tickets that are issued. However, their involvement may require them to adapt some systems or processes to a degree that may not be cost free. In this case, their early involvement is necessary if for nothing else than to give them an opportunity to plan for the introduction of a new traffic enforcement tool that will affect their work load. It is also interesting to note that in some jurisdictions the ticketing is handled administratively outside of the court system through a "violations bureau" or another similar entity.

Privacy Issues

In some of the reports and articles associated with this web page, there is discussion of privacy issues vis-à-vis red-light cameras. Though there are legal opinions that red-light cameras do not violate a citizen's legal right to privacy, there is still a perception that it does. Sometimes this perception is all that is needed to make an otherwise successful program fail. Public education campaigns can help alleviate these fears as can partnership building early in the process of implementing red-light camera usage. In addition, some locations simply photograph only the rear license plate of a violating vehicle, thus avoiding a photograph of the driver. However, such systems mean that the level of the infraction captured by a camera may have to be diminished from current practice for personally issued tickets.

Lag Time

Operators of red-light cameras must be aware of any time constraints imposed that establish a maximum time between the infraction and the receipt of a ticket. Any system and process chosen must allow the operators to stay within this time frame.


Some controversy can be generated from the perception that automated enforcement systems are simply revenue generators for the police. This perception can be overcome through public education and other means. One innovative solution was in Queensland, Australia where all receipts went into a road safety fund that was dedicated to all forms of road safety improvement rather than to just enforcement. This was apparently a strong selling point for the public. Another revenue issue is related to the involvement of vendors and operators in the red-light camera enforcement area. Their involvement requires a decision as to the amount of fees for a citation and the distribution among all of the parties.

Signal System

A red-light camera must work in harmony with the traffic signal at an intersection. It is therefore essential for traffic engineers to be involved in determining whether or not the existing signal system at a particular intersection is compatible with red-light camera applications or if it needs to be modified. Research shows that yellow-interval duration is a significant factor affecting the frequency of red-light running and that increasing yellow time to meet the needs of traffic can dramatically reduce red-light running. The following memo from the Associate Administrator, Office of Safety, FHWA to Division Administrators and Federal Lands Highway Division Engineers provides guidance on determining yellow change intervals based on intersection characteristics to reduce red-light running.

Guidance Memorandum on Consideration and Implementation of Proven Safety Countermeasures, FHWA, 2008. [HTML]
See “Yellow Change Intervals (Rev. 7/1/09).” [HTML]

Targeting Intersections

How do you choose the appropriate intersections for this type of enforcement? Clearly, a community must have good traffic safety data to determine which intersections pose the highest risks for both violations as well as crashes. Using this data, a program can be targeted for the highest level of benefits for the expected expenditures. In a similar vein, once problem intersections are identified, it is advisable that a traffic engineer be called upon to review the intersection and approach geometry, signal timing details, and other relevant engineering features to ensure that the red-light running problem is behavioral and not the result of an engineering shortcoming. Cameras should be considered/installed only after engineering solutions have been proven ineffective where there is a red-light running problem.

Page last modified on September 4, 2014.
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