The History of the Red Light Camera

By now, most people have seen a red light camera perched on top of a traffic light. If you pass an intersection with one of these when the light is red, it will take a photo of you, your car, and your license plate. Typically, an officer of the law will then review the photos to see if a traffic citation is necessary. 

In this article, we tell you a little about the history of the red light camera, why we have them, and how to avoid a ticket.

A Short History of the Red Light Camera

Red Light Camera

This wave of automatic law enforcement is far from a new thing. In 1993, New York passed the first red light camera bill. In 1994, they launched the first red light camera program.

The program was very successful in preventing crashes related to running red lights. Right angle crashes in intersections decreased by 62 percent. On top of this, there was a 76 percent decline in severe injuries from these types of crashes. This has led to a wave of red light cameras across the United States. Other countries, including Australia and the United Kingdom, began installing them as well.

Although, this has not come without some controversy.

Why We Have Them

Red light Camera

The research and literature on the subject of red light camera safety have grown much since the 1990s. The political fights on the subject of red light camera safety have grown, as well. Proponents of red light cameras tout the decreased crash rates and improved safety correlated with these programs. The people who oppose them often point to the increase in citation revenue that traffic cameras bring to the cities that install them.  Opponents argue that the money, rather than public safety, is the true motivation for their use.

There are good points on both sides. However, we aim to just point out the facts.

Facts About Red Light Cameras

Red light Camera

  • Fewer people are dying from people running red lights. There is a correlation between the number of red light cameras installed nationwide and a decrease in fatalities from red light crashes. Between 2011 and 2015, an average of  719 people died annually due to red light crashes. Compared to 2000, when fewer red light cameras were installed, 1,036 people died from red light crashes.
  • Red light cameras increase the likelihood of rear-end crashes. While the number of crashes caused by people running red lights has gone down, there is evidence that rear-end crashes have gone up. This is due to people stopping abruptly to avoid getting a ticket from a red light camera.
  • Red light cameras generate income. There are many different ways the money is distributed from citations. Usually, the fines for running a red light range between $70 and $270. This amount is divided among the state treasury, the local jurisdiction, and the camera vendor. Many red light camera opponents argue that a private company profiting from citations goes against the public interest.
  • Many studies claim most people support red light cameras. This study surveyed 3,111 people from 14 cities (populations over 200,000) using landline and cell numbers. It found that two-thirds of people supported the use of red light cameras, with 42 percent strongly supporting their use. However, when the issue of installing red light cameras is put on a ballot, the people have rejected them 90 percent of the time. 

Red light cameras most definitely increase revenues for the state and private companies, but they are also correlated with an increase in safety. Here is one thing we can absolutely be sure of: the number of people who run red lights goes down when more red light cameras are installed.

How to Avoid a Red Light Ticket

We don’t have many recommendations if you have already received a ticket. Of course, there are many articles out there with advice about how to get out of red light tickets. We want to make sure you just never get a ticket in the first place.

Understand the traffic laws of your local jurisdiction (especially for “right on red” laws). Some places completely outlaw right on red while others allow it. Some require you to completely stop before a right on red while other jurisdictions only require caution. Depending on the laws, it could be the difference between getting a ticket in your mailbox or not. A safe bet is to always come to a complete stop before turning right on red. Doing so will also give you time to check for a sign saying you cannot turn there.

Stop at a safe distance before an intersection and drive with caution every time you approach one. The stop line is usually painted before the end of the sidewalk.


If you pass the stop line while the light is red, the camera will take a picture. But don’t worry, just because a camera takes a picture does not automatically mean you will get a ticket. As long as you’re not blocking traffic, most places will not issue you a citation if you don’t pass through the intersection. 

Understand that the gray area of a yellow light. A yellow light means “pass through with caution if it is unsafe to stop.” It does not “mean hurry and go!” So even if you do pass the stop line before the light hits red, you can still find yourself with a ticket in the mailbox.

If you drive with caution and follow the advice above, you should never see a ticket from a red light camera in your mailbox. But if you do, you may also have more confidence that you can get it thrown out.

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