United States Department of Transportation - Federal Highway Administration FHWA HomeFeedback
safety Back to Resources

Innovative Intersection Safety Improvement Strategies and Management Practices: A Domestic Scan

Chapter 7. Enforcement Practices and Educational Programs

This chapter addresses several items identified during the tour that pertain to enforcement and driver and pedestrian education.

Enforcement Practices

There were several enforcement practices that were identified by host agencies and noted by the tour team. Specifically, so-called “rat lights,” automated red light running enforcement systems, and automated speed enforcement were topics that warrant brief discussion.

“Red Signal Indicator Lights.” Almost all of the agencies were familiar with “red signal indicator lights” that have other commonly understood names, such as “rat lights.” Several had implemented some or were in the process of implementing them. They are devices typically wired to signals and located so that they can be seen downstream of the signalized intersections. “Rat lights” are typically wired so that when the signal indication for traffic entering the upstream side of the intersection is red, the “rat light” is illuminated. This system allows a police officer to position their police vehicle downstream and watch the “rat light” and entering vehicles. If a vehicle enters the intersection while the “rat light” is illuminated, then the enforcement officer knows that the motorist entering the intersection has illegally entered on red. The officer can proceed to stop the subject vehicle for a red light violation, as shown in figure 98. Since the officer is positioned downstream of the intersection, the officer is in a much safer position to initiate his pursuit. Without the “rat light,” as shown in figure 99, officers would need to be upstream of the intersection. In order to pursue the alleged violating motorist, the officer would also have to violate the red light indication by following the motorist through the intersection. Of course, some police agencies eliminate the risk that would result from chasing the violator through a red signal by using a pair of officers in separate vehicles to coordinate and issue citations to red light violators. But the disadvantage to this approach is that more police resources would have to be devoted to red light running enforcement, which potentially makes this effort more costly to the police agency.

Photograph of a police vehicle downstream of an intersection. A caption pointing to the vehicle indicates that the officer can observe and pursue from downstream. Another caption poiting to the signal mast where an enforcement light is mounted indicates that the enforcement light is visible from all directions.
Figure 98. View of signal-controlled intersection equipped with “rat lights” in Richardson, Texas.
(Courtesy of the City of Richardson).

Photograph of a signal pole with a 'rat light' mounted near the mast arm.
Figure 99. Another detailed view of “rat light.”
(Courtesy of the City of Richardson).

Automated Red Light Running Enforcement Systems. Similarly, there were several agencies that implemented or are in the process of implementing red light running systems in their jurisdictions. Figure 100 depicts the advance sign for a red light running camera system in Portland. The camera is shown in figure 101, and the strobe light at the intersection is shown in figure 102. For completeness sake, figure 103 presents a view of the loops at the stop bar. Although it is a slightly different system, figures 104 and 105 show the advance sign and a view of the camera, respectively, for a red light running automated enforcement system in Charlotte. There are several issues that continue to plague red light running automated enforcement systems. The issues include a person's right to privacy and the amount of the fine. There are also legal issues about who owns the vehicle and can the owner be forced to pay the fine. Then there are issues over whether the system has been implemented for ostensibly safety reasons or whether it was implemented solely to raise revenue for the local jurisdiction. With regard to the safety effects, the most recent and comprehensive study of the crash and economic effects by Council et al.(9) concluded that, in general, automated red light systems reduce the more severe angle crashes with a lesser amount of increase in rear-end, less severe crashes.

Photograph of advance signs mounted to a light post indicating that the red light is photo enforced.
Figure 100. View of advance sign for a red light running automated enforcement system in Portland.

Photo of camera mounted on a pole at the side of the road.
Figure 101. View of camera for a red light running automated enforcement system.

Photo of a strobe light mounted to a light post at an intersection.
Figure 102. View of strobe light at the intersection for a red light running automated enforcement system in Portland.

Photograph of inpavement detector loops placed in advance of a stop line at a signalized intersection.
Figure 103. View of inductive loops at stop line for a red light running automated enforcement system in Portland.

Photo of a dign posted along a roadway warning drivers that the red light ahead is photo enforced.
Figure 104. View of advance sign for a red light running automated enforcement system in Charlotte.

Photo of a nondescript box containing a camera system that is mounted on a pole near a signalized intersection.
Figure 105. View of camera for a red light running automated enforcement system in Charlotte.

Automated Speed Enforcement. Charlotte, North Carolina, instituted a speed enforcement program that employs mobile technology that resides in a specially equipped van, which allows speeding vehicles to be captured after they have passed the van. A vendor operates the system for the city, but the local law requires a trained police officer to be present at the site whenever enforcement activity is underway. Although the program has targeted certain areas, it was considered too early in time because this program was initiated to assess the relative effectiveness of the program within the community. Portland also had an automated speed enforcement program.

Educational Programs

There were two items related to educational programs that are discussed below. The first deals with safety awareness campaigns. The second deals with multilingual formats.

Safety Awareness Programs. During the scan, it was noted that of the agencies visited during the tour, several locations, including Portland, Oregon transportation officials, the Michigan State Police, and the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG), have developed and implemented safety awareness educational programs geared toward intersection safety. For example, figure 106 presents a large display and promotional poster about SEMCOG's red light running program. The key aspects of educational programs that promote intersection safety are: (1) what is the message that needs to be communicated; and (2) how best can that message be communicated. To many traffic engineers and highway safety professionals, intersections are extremely complex situations, which are not fully understood especially when it comes to causal relationships. However, to be effective promotional campaigns, there is a need to simplify the information so that the public can not only understand, but also embrace it as well.

Photo of a large wall poster of southeastern Michigan entitled 'Top 25 Red Light Running Crash Intersections, 3-year average for 1991-2000.' Colored dots on the poster indicate problem areas. A colorful sign in the corner reads 'The Light is Red for a Reason...SO STOP!'
Figure 106. SEMCOG's program to reduce red light running.

Multilingual Programs. Earlier in this report, a pedestrian push button regulatory sign in Spanish was discussed. Within the field of driver and pedestrian education, there is a growing recognition of the informational needs of people who do not speak English and those for whom English is a second language. Several cities visited have significant Hispanic populations. Consequently, some have taken steps toward accommodating the needs of drivers and pedestrians who only speak Spanish. Figures 107 and 108 are scanned images of selected pages of a walking promotional document. When folded, it is six pages in length. Three of the pages are in English and three are in Spanish. While the message is only minimally geared toward intersection safety, there are obvious benefits when the content of the safety programs can be communicated to large segments of the local community.

Photograph of an English language promotional brochure on walking that contains safety tips, walking gear tips, and ideas on places that walkers can get to on foot.
Figure 107. English version of brochure on the benefits of walking.
(Source: Courtesy of NCTCOG).

Photograph of a Spanish language promotional brochure on walking that contains safety tips, walking gear tips, and ideas on places that walkers can get to on foot.
Figure 108. Spanish version of brochure on the benefits of walking.
(Source: Courtesy of NCTCOG).

Previous | Table of Contents | Next

back to top


FHWA
Office of Operations FHWA Safety Home