A red light camera is a traffic safety tool that snaps pictures of cars running red lights for the purpose of ticketing drivers. They act as a deterrent, reminding drivers that even if a police officer is not around, they can still receive tickets for driving through red lights. Accidents caused by running red lights result in fatalities and substantial amounts of damage each year, making an effective method of enforcement a very useful tool for keeping the roads safer.
The red light camera consists of a camera connected to a computer circuit. The computer uses an induction loop embedded in the pavement to determine when a car passes a certain point in the road. If the light is red and a car goes over the intersection, the computer tells the camera to take a picture. A red light camera may photograph the front and back of a vehicle, or just the back, depending on the system.
In some regions, the system delivers a ticket to the registered owner of the car, and that person is responsible for paying. The camera only takes a picture of the back of the car to get the license plate number, as all vehicles must display a valid plate at the rear. In places where the driver receives a ticket, the red light camera takes a picture of the front of the car to get an image of the person behind the wheel. The registered owner will receive a packet in the mail with information about how to have the ticket sent to the driver if the owner was not driving.
Red light camera systems rely on alphanumeric recognition to send tickets, and do sometimes make mistakes. Depending on lighting and other conditions, it's possible to accidentally ticket the wrong car. Disputing such tickets is relatively easy, because people can point to the make and model of the car in the picture to show that a mistake must have been made while reading the plate. In cases where a car is stolen and the thief runs red lights, people can submit a police report and ask for the tickets to be waived.
Critics of red light cameras argue that they may cause traffic hazards by forcing drivers to pull up short, or that they constitute undue monitoring of citizens. Law enforcement and supporters believe that since lights turn yellow first, giving people ample time to stop, the first argument is not necessarily true, and has not been documented at intersections with red light cameras. The second argument is a topic of lively debate in some regions, particularly places where people place a high premium on civil liberties.