Red Light Cameras: Series Introduction

rlc.jpgOver the last couple of weeks Inside, a Ledger editorial, and Empirical Polk, wrote about Lakeland’s proposed red light cameras. Today marks the first in a series that will take a look at the cameras that might spout up at Lakeland intersections.

Installing red light cameras is a controversial subject. As with any such subject there are dozens of questions. Those questions often have conflicting answers.

Are the red light cameras a fait accompli? If installed, where would they go? Who makes that decision? Do they really help reduce accidents? Are they simply money makers ? Are they in the best interest of drivers or politicians? Where have they worked well and where have they been removed? Does Lakeland have a particular model in mind? What can the city do to make sure this contract is bulletproof?

Over the series we’ll try to answer as many of those questions as we can. Usually through pointing readers toward original studies where possible. Often, we’ll link to the study and someone’s analysis of the study. A couple of times we’ll even point you to an analysis of that analysis. By the end of the series we’ll have links to the best information available about RLCs. When possible, we’ll have information directly from Lakeland sources. Finally, we’ll wrap up with our first Lakeland Local editorial taking a stance on RLCs in Lakeland.

Let’s get started with: RLC History in a Paragraph and a Link

Cameras have been used to catch drivers committing violations since the late 1960s. They’re most popular in Europe, but there has been a major push to expand their use in the United States. In the US, the first cameras were installed in 1986 in Texas. Gulf Breeze, the first Florida city to install the cameras, did so over the objection of the Florida Department of Transportation. That was early 2006. The cameras are still in place a year later. Right next door to Gulf Breeze Escambia County considered the cameras, but decided state law wouldn’t allow them.

Wikipedia has a decent article on the history of traffic cameras.

What exactly is a RLC?

Simply put, they are cameras designed to photograph a car as it runs a red light. How Stuff Works has the best basic description of the RLC process. In Lakeland, the plan is to use installed digital cameras. They’ll look similar to the one pictured at left.

Redflex Traffic Systems is the company with the inside track to install cameras in Lakeland. We’ll tell you more about them later this week. In his blog, Rajiv Shah describes the Redflex camera procedure:

1. Road sensors: Road-embedded sensors detect a car moving toward an intersection. Sensors calculate the car’s speed and determine whether it will run the red light.
2. Camera activated: Sensors send a signal to the overhead camera to begin recording images of the car as it nears the intersection.
3. 12 seconds of video shot: The camera records 12 seconds of video — 6 seconds before the car runs the red light and 6 seconds after.
4. Additional images captured: In addition to images of the car in the intersection, the system records a shot of the license plate and — in jurisdictions using driver liability and facial photography — an image of the driver.
5. Citation issued: Redflex checks images for quality and turns them over to the city’s traffic law enforcement agency, which reviews it for a violation and mails a ticket to the vehicle owner.
Mr. Shah is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Illinois at Chicago.


There is no doubt the cameras record cars traveling through red lights, but are they accurate? More importantly, do they reduce red light violations? We’ll answer those questions as this series continues Tuesday….

Photo CC by Chris Phan