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Posted at 1:15 PM ET, 02/24/2011

A guide to red-light cameras

By Washington Post Editors

[This post has been updated]

Christy Goodman and Megan Buerger report that the use of red-light cameras in the Washington region is increasing.

Their story for Local Living says that the devices are growing in popularity and recently received a boost with the release of a study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Ashley Halsey reported earlier in February that the study found that traffic fatalities at District intersections with photo enforcement dropped 26 percent from 2004 to 2008.

Have you had your picture snapped by a red-light camera? Tell us about your experiences or your opinion of using the cameras for traffic enforcement by posting a comment below.

By Washington Post Editors  | February 24, 2011; 1:15 PM ET
Categories:  Driving, Traffic Safety  
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Red light cameras are great. I'm sick of having to look both ways before crossing the street -- when I have a walk sign -- because so many people run red lights. I'd rather have the police out writing those tickets in person. But we can't put a policeman at every intersection, and red light cameras help enforce the laws.

I'm also tired of hearing people whining about how unfair it is to get a ticket from a camera. If you don't want a ticket, don't run the light.

Posted by: robwilli | February 22, 2011 10:39 PM | Report abuse

Having been snapped by a camera and receiving a warning at W. Broad St. & Annandale Rd. in Falls Church, I queried the local police department. I believed it had been in error, and had seen the camera flash at other motorists who came to a complete stop as well. I received the following thorough and helpful response:

"Thank you for your interest in our automated red light enforcement program; we deeply appreciate receiving motorist observations and feedback on all aspects of the system’s operation. Regarding the multiple activations that you’ve observed over the past few days, under normal operating conditions the cameras at enforced intersections may indeed be seen flashing even though a violation has not occurred. This is because the system uses vehicle detection technology to anticipate when a vehicle approaching the intersection is likely to violate the red light, based upon the vehicle's speed and acceleration; the vehicle is then photographed as it reaches the intersection, causing the camera to flash. If the vehicle stops in time to avoid violating the light, the camera will not flash again and no violation is recorded. However if the vehicle does proceed into the intersection against the red light, it is photographed a second time, causing another camera flash. During times of high traffic volume, the system may flash repeatedly but may actually be recording few, if any, enforceable violations. And as a precaution against enforcement of false activations, all violations recorded by the system are carefully screened for accuracy and integrity by a Falls Church police officer before any notices are issued.

"Reference your concern about the signage at the intersection of eastbound West Broad Street and Annandale Road, the sign you’ve observed prohibits any truck traffic from turning onto Annandale Road, regardless of the phase of the traffic signal. Once the signal has turned red, trucks and passenger cars alike will be considered to have violated the red light if they fail to come to a full stop before entering the intersection to turn right.

"Thank you again for contacting the Police Department. I appreciate your taking the time to convey your observations and concerns, and I hope that I have addressed them to your satisfaction. Please do not hesitate to contact me with any further questions or concerns you may have.

"With kindest regards,

"Sgt. -. -. U------ [redacted]
"Falls Church City Police Department"

Posted by: williamd1 | February 23, 2011 7:27 AM | Report abuse

Speed and red light cameras should be everywhere. It works in Europe and it would work here. Too many close calls with red light runners, particularly right turns, and aggressive speeders. Americans are too self-centered, me first, and lack responsibility. Personally, if you are speeding and injure or kill someone it isn't an "accident" and you should pay their bills for all damage, medical, and lost future income and be charged with a crime. But I'll settle for cameras all around.

Posted by: biketraveller22 | February 23, 2011 8:01 AM | Report abuse

I received a ticket for running a red light in DC. I looked closely at the picture - it wasn't my car. The license plate looked like mine (I think the owner had modified it), but it definitely wasn't me - different make and model. So I wrote out an explanation, took some pictures of my car, and sent it all in, and the ticket was dismissed.

Posted by: staxowax | February 23, 2011 8:25 AM | Report abuse

Red light cameras are a joke and speed cameras are worse. It is all so arbitrary. Following too closely is much more dangerous than speeding or running red lights just as they turn red but it isn't prosecuted at all. These are just moneymaking schemes for jurisdictions disguised as safety measures.

I am in complete agreement with the second half of the comment by @biketraveller22. We don't do much of anything to those who cause accidents. We should.

As to @robwilli who wants to be able to cross the street without looking both ways, grow up. There are many dangers out there. If you want to be able to walk around nonchalantly, go to a park.

Posted by: slar | February 23, 2011 8:49 AM | Report abuse


Do you then agree that the cyclist who struck me in a crosswalk while running a red light and didn't even stop to see if I was OK when I hit the pavement should have to pay for the surgery I had to have for the facial injuries that I suffered and should also be charged with a crime? I certainly do.

Posted by: WashingtonDame | February 23, 2011 9:33 AM | Report abuse

Even pedestrians need to pay attention. And hit by a bike, seriously? You could have pushed her over in self defense.

Posted by: getjiggly1 | February 23, 2011 11:06 AM | Report abuse

I got snapped at an intersection in DC after I hit the gas instead of the brake when the light turned yellow. I was in a rush.

I got exactly what I deserved. I've been more careful ever since.

Posted by: thetan | February 23, 2011 12:32 PM | Report abuse

Even pedestrians need to pay attention. And hit by a bike, seriously? You could have pushed her over in self defense.

Posted by: getjiggly1 | February 23, 2011 11:06 AM | Report abuse

I was walking on a GREEN light and was hit by a cyclist speeding down a hill. He never even slowed down. Sprawled on the road with head and facial injury, I was in NO position to give chase. An off-duty uniformed Secret Service car stopped to help me and called an ambulance.

But thanks for all the "sympathy."
I'll be sure to return it if you ever get injured.

Posted by: WashingtonDame | February 23, 2011 12:34 PM | Report abuse

If you are "sprawled on the road with head and facial injury" from a CYCLIST it means you were not paying attention. You wouldn't have to give chase if you actually paid attention to what was going on around you instead of marching ahead with tunnel vision. This reminds me of the college girl I saw walk into a tree yesterday because she was so busy texting. A little common sense would go a long way.

Posted by: getjiggly1 | February 23, 2011 1:28 PM | Report abuse

Yeah, so the biker was technically "at fault". So sue. Literally. I strongly believe the biker should have been punished for assaulting you, but what difference does it make? You're the one with the injuries which probably could have been avoided if you were paying attention. Given the option, I think most people would rather avoid the injury in the first place than win the lawsuit.

Posted by: slar | February 23, 2011 1:41 PM | Report abuse

I dislike speed cameras and think they are largely pointless. Going 47 in a 35 is not a big deal if conditions are otherwise safe.

But I wouldn't mind seeing red light cameras at every single signalized intersection in the city.

As a frequent pedestrian (probably walking an hour or more every day between my commute and other errands), I have to wait for, or run out of the way of, a car running a red light about once a day.

I'm a careful pedestrian, but I know there will eventually come one day (out of all the days I walk) when I happen to be distracted while walking with a walk sign.

If that happens to me in a car, I get t-boned and make an insurance claim. But if it happens to me while walking, I die. With so many pedestrians everywhere in DC, people's casual disregard for red lights is a real problem. Put in more cameras.

Posted by: dal20402 | February 23, 2011 7:36 PM | Report abuse

No, I don't run red-lights or speed so I never have to deal with it

If others did the same thing and stopped crying about their own issues, this would not be that big an issue

Posted by: Bious | February 23, 2011 9:51 PM | Report abuse

error in your map: the camera at independence ave and 3rd St SE should actually be at 3rd St SW (according to the text displayed when you click on that dot)

Posted by: abr2 | February 24, 2011 9:34 AM | Report abuse

I received a $150 ticket for "signal past red lite" at Military Rd. and 14th Street, NW. I didn't understand what the ticket was for but the picture showed me in the crosswalk at Military and 14th. I frequently turn right on 14th street from Military Rd., so I assumed that the camera had mistakenly taken a picture as I made a right turn. I requested a hearing and it was scheduled for February 22. I went downtown to 3rd and C Street and sat before a monitor and the hearing examiner. The monitor showed my car slowly passing the first white line of the crosswalk, stopping at the second, than making the right turn. My blinker was on. The examiner explained that I should have made a complete stop at the first white line. I told him that you could see nothing from that spot. You could not see cars coming from the left or pedistrians from the right. He stated that I should have stopped and eased up and than made the right turn. He said the penalty was the same as if I had run the red light. Well, I paid $20 to park downtown, went out into the snow, visited a very unpleasant place, and paid $150. All this for stopping 1 foot past where I should have stopped and eased up. Makes you dislike the District. Maybe the $150 would help pay for Kwame Brown's SUV. But, for what its worth, I will stop at the first white line and ease up to the second.

Posted by: slimmer | February 24, 2011 11:44 AM | Report abuse

I received a red light ticket at the exit from the 12th Street tunnel on to Constitution Ave but the photos showed I did not go through a red light. In the first photo my car is stopped at the light and traffic is crossing in both directions. In the second photo I am turning right(East) and the only traffic on Constitution is going West. The intersection allows right turns on red. I appealed the ticket but it was denied. I then had to pay the $75 plus a $10 fee to appeal the denial of my appeal. I filed the appeal and paid the $85 - the check was cashed. It has been 8 months and I have heard nothing. The cameras are obviously just a way to rip off the public.

Posted by: jkluger | February 24, 2011 12:37 PM | Report abuse

There is a red light camera at the end of E. Randolph and beginning of Cherry Hill, Rd. It may not be working because I see many going through after the red is on eastward when I am waiting to turn.

Posted by: mslott | February 24, 2011 2:18 PM | Report abuse

There is a red light camera at the end of E. Randolph and beginning of Cherry Hill, Rd. It may not be working because I see many going through after the red is on eastward when I am waiting to turn.

Posted by: mslott | February 24, 2011 2:18 PM | Report abuse

@getjiggly1 and slar

Your "blame the victim" mentality is fascist. You no doubt blame a rape victim for wearing provcative clothes.

Don't forget that a driver can blame you if not paying attention and getting out his way when you cycle through your next red light. With any luck, I'll be the one behind the wheel.

Posted by: WashingtonDame | February 24, 2011 2:51 PM | Report abuse

WashingtonDame, I'm not blaming you for being stupid, I'm just pointing it out. Slar was even more explicit on this point.

Reading comprehension is not your strong suit.

Stupid teabaggers.

Posted by: getjiggly1 | February 24, 2011 3:52 PM | Report abuse

Thought your readers would be interested in my experience with a red light camera in Tucson, Arizona on the way to California. They apparently have the same rules as in Howard County and I went past a stop line while waiting for a light to change so that I could make a U-turn on a divided highway. I received a ticket by mail. Though I never even went through the intersection, the ticket was for more than $300! Of course I could have challenged it if I wanted a hearing in Tucson---but I assure you I never plan to return there.This is where things can lead once communities find out how much money there can be in these cameras !

Posted by: myandi09 | February 24, 2011 3:53 PM | Report abuse

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