Traffic Safety Review: State Speed and Red-Light Camera Laws and Programs

9/26/2022

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Introduction

Automated enforcement—that is, red-light cameras and speed cameras—allows state and local governments and law enforcement agencies to remotely capture images of drivers violating traffic laws and issue citations, often civil, to drivers. Automated enforcement is a tool to enforce traffic laws while using fewer law enforcement personnel and resources.

More than two people are killed each day by drivers running red lights in the U.S., according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. AAA’s report concluded that 28% of crash deaths were occurring at signalized intersections and caused by drivers running red lights. Data from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) shows that drivers running red lights resulted in 928 deaths and an estimated 116,000 injuries in 2020.

As for speeding, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that speeding-related fatalities increased by 17% between 2019 and 2020, from 9,592 to 11,258. From 2011 to 2020, speeding-related fatalities increased by 13%, from 10,001 in 2011 to 11,258 in 2020. An estimated 308,013 people were injured in speeding-related crashes on American roadways in 2020.

Studies evaluating the effectiveness of automated enforcement generally show a positive effect on traffic safety. A 2016 IIHS study of the effectiveness of red-light cameras found that removing red-light cameras from intersections costs lives. To reach this conclusion, researchers compared trends in annual fatal crashes in 14 cities which ended their camera programs with those in 29 cities in the same regions that continued their programs. They found that in the 14 cities where cameras were removed, fatal red-light-running crash rate increased by 30%, and the rate of all fatal crashes increased by 16% at all signalized intersections. The study estimated 63 deaths could have been prevented if the cities did not end their red-light camera programs.

IIHS released data from a 2016 study of speed cameras in Montgomery County, Maryland, and found that about 7 1/2 years after the program began, the proportion of drivers traveling at least 10 mph over the speed limit had declined on streets with speed cameras. The cameras reduced the likelihood of fatal or severe injury crashes by 19%. The IIHS study concluded the likelihood of a driver exceeding the speed limit by more than 10 mph on roads with cameras decreased by 62% compared to similar roads without cameras.

Administering automated enforcement programs can be controversial. AAA’s Traffic Safety Culture Index showed fewer than half of respondents (44%) “somewhat” or “strongly supported” using cameras to automatically ticket drivers operating more than 10 mph over the speed limit on residential streets. One commonly cited reason for community opposition is that such programs are sometimes perceived as revenue-generating tools.

In response to a surge in traffic deaths occurring on the nation’s roads since COVID-19 began, AAA and IIHS, along with other traffic safety organizations, released an updated automated enforcement checklist communities seeking to use red-light and speed cameras can consult. The same traffic safety groups developed a checklist specifically for red-light camera programs which strongly emphasizes transparency and implementation based on safety concerns. The U.S. DOT also has established operational guidelines for both speed cameras and red-light cameras.

State legislatures have introduced and considered typically more than 100 automated enforcement bills each year since 2018. Over that same timeframe between 2018 and 2022, states have enacted over 50 automated enforcement related bills. The following sections detail and summarize recently enacted automated enforcement state legislation in the follow categories: speed cameras, work zone cameras, school zone cameras and red-light cameras, along with a short section on potentially using automated enforcement for distracted driving.

Speed Cameras

According to NHTSA, 11,258 crashes or 29% of all motor vehicle fatalities occurred in speed-related crashes in 2020. NHTSA also reports the estimated economic cost of speed-related crashes is about $52 billion a year. In addition to traditional speed enforcement such as radar and aerial speed enforcement, some state legislatures have attempted to curb speeding through automated enforcement. Automated speed enforcement is a method of speed limit enforcement which stands apart because it does not require the presence of a law enforcement officer and allows for more consistent enforcement than traditional methods. State legislatures have passed several measures in recent years studying the use of automated enforcement for speed, employing automated speed enforcement programs or prohibiting localities from utilizing automated speed enforcement.

Speed cameras use radar or lidar presence detectors embedded in the road to measure a vehicle’s speed. If a vehicle is traveling faster than the posted speed limit, the camera will record its speed and license plate, along with the date, time and location. A citation will be mailed to the registered owner if the driver exceeded the speed limit, typically by more than 10 or 11 mph, according to IIHS

While some municipalities continue to enhance automated enforcement programs, the recent trend has been toward fewer governments using red-light and speed camera programs. However, speed cameras, which are less prevalent than red-light cameras, saw a slight uptick in their use in recent years.

According to IIHS, as of September 2022, speed cameras were in operation in 179 U.S. communities in 18 states and the District of Columbia, according to media sources and other public information tracked by IIHS, up from only four Arizona and Utah communities in 1995. Peoria, Arizona, and Paradise Valley, Arizona, were the first two communities to implement speed cameras in 1987. Cameras are used statewide in highway work zones in Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Oregon and Pennsylvania. At least 10 states—Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Virginia—have legislatively authorized speed cameras to be utilized in highway work or construction zones, see the Work Zone Cameras section for more details.  

Administering automated enforcement programs can be controversial. One commonly cited reason for community opposition is that such programs are sometimes perceived as revenue-generating tools. To this end, the USDOT has created operational guidelines for speed cameras.

Communities in 18 states—Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Virginia and Washington—and the District of Columbia operate speed cameras. Maine, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, South Carolina, Texas and West Virginia and Wisconsin do not allow the use of speed cameras. Nevada prohibits speed camera programs unless law-enforcement personnel is present when cameras are used. Arkansas allows speed cameras in school zones and at railroad crossings, but speed cameras are not currently in use. In Utah, communities are not using speed cameras, even though the state allows them in school zones and areas with speed limits of 30 mph or less. Finally, Iowa allows red-light and speed cameras if they are approved via local ordinance and New Mexico allows speed cameras to be approved via local ordinance.

Maine, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, South Carolina, Texas, West Virginia and Wisconsin prohibit speed cameras via state law. Missouri's Supreme Court issued two rulings in 2015 which found that red-light and speed cameras were unconstitutional and speed cameras are no longer used anywhere in the state.

Automated enforcement can sometimes be a source of contention between state and local governments. In Iowa, the Iowa DOT (IDOT) and local jurisdictions have battled over the use of speed cameras for several years, mostly focused on speed cameras being placed on interstates and primary highways under the control of the IDOT. The IDOT had asserted use of the cameras fell under their general authority to maintain safe highways and ordered the shutdown of 10 speed cameras on or adjacent to Iowa highways.  In April of 2018, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that the IDOT did not have statutory authority to keep the municipalities from using speed cameras. Cities have resumed using speed cameras on interstates and primary highways in their jurisdictions, and no longer must submit annual reports on automated enforcement to the IDOT. The IDOT then removed the restrictive rules in question. Use on local roads was not in question and continued throughout.

State Legislative Action

A number of states have enacted legislation authorizing or increasing the use of automated enforcement speed monitoring since 2018. Maryland authorized (HB 175, 2018) Prince George’s County until the end of September 2023, to place the one-speed camera at a specific intersection, provided proper signage is in place and placed near a device that displays a real-time posting of the driver’s speed. Prince George’s County has used speed cameras at several locations since the legislature authorized their use on certain highways in 2010. After cost recovery, fine revenues must be deposited into the Criminal Injuries Compensation Fund. The county must report to the governor and General Assembly by Jan. 1, 2023, on the number of speed monitoring citations issued by month. It also must provide the number of fatal motor vehicle crashes and fatalities by month while speed monitoring systems are active, and any measurable decreases in vehicle speed along the route. Another Maryland bill (HB 187, 2019) increased the number of speed monitoring systems that can be implemented on State Route 210 in Prince George’s County.

Pennsylvania enacted legislation (SB 172, 2018) establishing a five-year pilot program for automated speed enforcement systems along the entire length of Roosevelt Boulevard in the city of Philadelphia. The bill requires signage at two-mile intervals notifying the public that an automated system is in use and its location will be posted on PennDOT’s website. Driving 11 mph over the speed limit constitutes a violation for the pilot, and the fine for violations must be established by city ordinance and cannot exceed more than $150.  Violations are not considered a criminal conviction or made part of the driver’s operating record, nor can violations be used by insurance companies for merit rating purposes or to impose surcharge points.

Fine revenue, minus operation and administrative costs for the pilot will be remitted to the Transportation Enhancement Grants Program, which was established under the Automated Red Light Enforcement program. All municipalities are eligible to apply for assistance, although priority must be given to applications from Philadelphia. The legislation prohibits recorded images collected as part of an automated speed enforcement systems from being used for any other surveillance purposes unless a court orders the information be provided to law enforcement officials solely in connection with a criminal law enforcement action. The pilot requires the submission of an annual report to the transportation committees of the Senate and House. The report must include information such as the number of vehicular accidents and related serious injuries and deaths in the pilot areas where ASES is deployed; speed data; the number of notices of violation issued; the amount of fines imposed and collected; and amounts paid under contracts authorized.

Arizona recently revised its process for reviewing and issuing speed camera violations. Arizona now requires (HB 1110, 2018) a law enforcement officer to review photo evidence of a speed violation before issuing a citation and prohibits a photo enforcement company from determining whether a violation occurred.

Maryland (HB 46/SB 177, 2020) granted the state’s Motor Vehicle Administration new authority to suspend a vehicle’s registration for an unpaid penalty resulting from a speed camera violation. The state also recently prohibited local jurisdictions from using speed monitoring systems on certain highways (HB 434, 2022).

Work Zone Cameras

According to the National Work Zone Safety Information Clearinghouse, over 100,000 crashes occurred in work zones in 2020, resulting in an estimated 44,000 work zone injury crashes and 857 work zone crash deaths. State legislatures have responded by passing several laws in recent years either studying the potential use of work zone speed cameras or authorizing their use to ticket violators.

State Legislative Action

At least 10 states—Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Virginia—have legislatively authorized speed cameras to be utilized in highway work or construction zones.

The Delaware legislature authorized (SB 200, 2021) the Delaware DOT to enter into an agreement with an existing vendor to install mobile speed enforcement devices in the I-95 work zone in the Wilmington area to reduce speeding and crashes. Such enforcement may only be used within the work zone and the cameras must be removed when construction is completed, which is slated for early 2023. Civil speeding violations will be reviewed and issued by Delaware State Police. The DOT must provide the Joint Committee on Capital Improvements with a report at the conclusion of the project. According to an August 2022 Delaware News Journal article, since April 17, 2022, nearly 3,700 notices of civil violations have been issued for speeding in the work zone. Early data suggests the work zone cameras have been effective, with 209 crashes in the work zone in the 4 and half months of April to August 2021 before the cameras went live, versus 95 crashes in the 4 and half months after the cameras started operating in 2022. “The 'after' crash data reflects a 55% reduction in total crashes and a 50% reduction in injury crashes," according to Charles McLeod, a Delaware DOT spokesperson.

Pennsylvania approved legislation (SB 172, 2018) establishing a five-year pilot program for automated speed enforcement cameras in work zones on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, interstates and federal aid highways. Drivers going 11 mph over the posted speed limit in work zone enforcement areas when highway workers are present will be given a warning after their first offense, fined $75 after their second offense, and fined $150 following their third offense. The program began in March 2020, following a 60-day pre-enforcement period. Compared to the first nine months of work zone camera operation, PennDOT notes violations increased by “45% to more than 317,000 and fines more than doubled to $3.6 million” in the second nine months of operation in 2021. 

Connecticut (SB 1202, 2021) approved a two-year pilot program for speed cameras at no more than three highway work zones if the speed limit in such zones is 45 mph or greater. Violations may only be issued if the driver was operating the vehicle at least 15 mph over the speed limit. A driver receives a written warning for a first violation. The fine for a second violation is $75 and increases to $150 for any subsequent violations thereafter. Further, the law allowed the commissioner of transportation to use third-party vendors and prohibited violations from being used for insurance purposes. Violations will not be included in a driver’s operating record.

New York (SB 4682, 2021) authorized the state Thruway Authority and the state Department of Transportation to implement a speed camera demonstration program in highway construction or maintenance work areas. Violations will be recorded if a driver operates their vehicle at least 10 mph above the posted speed limit in such zones. Violations cannot be used for insurance purposes and will not be included in a driver’s record. The law also outlined the following penalties: $50 for a first violation, $75 for a second violation and $100 for any subsequent violations within 18 months.

Vermont (HB 433, 2021) ordered a feasibility study on implementing speed cameras in work zones. The report was published by the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) in January 2022. The report concludes that “To complement existing efforts on Vermont highways to improve safety in work zones through engineering, enforcement, and education, a speed safety camera program would improve safety in Vermont work zones.” The reports recommended tasking VTrans with administering any speed camera program, dependent on the Vermont legislature enacting legislation with guiding principles for the program.

Virginia (HB 1442, 2020) authorized state and local law enforcement agencies to operate speed cameras in highway work zones and school crossing zones. A violation occurs when a motorist is captured by a speed camera driving at least 10 mph over the posted school crossing zone or highway work zone speed limit. A law-enforcement officer must review and affirm the violation. The maximum penalty may not exceed $100. Localities will receive revenues from violations they issue, and revenues from violations issued by the State Police will be deposited into the Literary Fund for low-interest loans for public schools. Speed camera violations will not be considered a conviction against the driver’s record nor used for insurance purposes unless a law enforcement officer uses a photo speed monitoring device and issues a summons at the time of the violation. Finally, state and local law enforcement agencies using speed cameras must annually report the number of successful prosecutions and the total amount of fines collected to the State Police, with the first report noting that thus far “no agencies within the Commonwealth reported the use of any photo speed monitoring devices.”

School Zone Cameras

According to NHTSA statistics, between 2011 and 2020,  218 school-age children (ages 18 and younger) died in school transportation-related crashes; 44 were occupants of school transportation vehicles, 83 were occupants of other vehicles, 85 were pedestrians, 5 were bicyclists and 1 was an “other” nonoccupant. Zooming out to consider all roadway users, not just school-age children, between 2011 and 2020 there were 1,009 fatal school-transportation-related crashes, and 1,125 people of all ages were killed in those crashes—an average of 113 fatalities per year.

An IIHS study in Montgomery County, Maryland, of speed cameras used in school zones and residential streets with speed limits of 35 mph or lower found that on roadways with cameras, the likelihood of a driver exceeding the speed limit by more than 10 mph decreased by 59%, compared with similar roads in two Virginia counties that don't use speed cameras. Crashes also were lower compared to the control study roads in Virginia as IIHS found that the cameras resulted in a 19% reduction in the likelihood of a crash with a fatality or an incapacitating injury.

State Legislation

Due to the vulnerable nature of school children traveling to school by bike or foot or disembarking from a school bus or their caregiver’s vehicles, states have enabled local governments to use automated speed enforcement in school zones.

According to IIHS and NCSL research, at least 12 states - Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Missouri, New York, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia and Washington conduct school zone automated speed enforcement. In Georgia and Rhode Island, school zones are the only locations where automated speed enforcement is allowed in the state.

Georgia enacted legislation (HB 978, 2018) authorizing the use of automated traffic enforcement safety devices in school zones. Such devices may be used only on school days, from one hour before classes begin to one hour after classes conclude. A school must apply for and secure a permit from the Georgia Department of Transportation for the use of an automated traffic enforcement safety device.

A motor vehicle owner captured by an automated traffic enforcement safety device driving more than 10 mph over the speed limit is liable for a civil monetary penalty. The fine is $75 for a first violation and $125 for a second and any subsequent violation, in addition to fees that may not exceed $25. Additionally, if a violation has not been contested and the penalty not paid after 30 days of the final notice being mailed, the Department of Revenue shall refuse to renew the vehicle’s registration. Further, transferring the title of the vehicle within the state is prohibited unless and until the civil monetary penalty and any late fees are paid. The fine revenue collected by the governing body where the violation occurred must only be used to fund local law enforcement or public safety initiatives in that locality.

Rhode Island (SB 2688/HB 7956, 2018) enabled the use of automated school zone speed enforcement systems, but only after approval by the director of the state Department of Transportation. A violator will be fined $50 for each offense; however, only warnings may be issued for the first 30 days following the system’s installation. A violation will not be considered a moving violation on the motorist’s driving record and the court shall expunge any automated school zone speed enforcement violations during the preceding three-year period. In addition, there must be unobstructed signs warning motorists at least 100 feet prior to entering an automated school zone area and the systems can only be operated on school days from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. The system’s vendor must submit an annual report with all pertinent data to the speaker of the House and the Senate president.

The New York legislature has been active in expanding school zone automated speed enforcement of late. New York City shut down 140 school zone speed cameras in 2018 due to the expiration of a 2013 law authorizing their use. The New York Legislature enacted a bill (AB 6449, 2019) to expand the speed camera program and implement cameras around every public elementary, middle and high school in New York City. The law also allows the cameras to operate for longer hours each day. The authorization to use cameras in 750 school zones makes New York City’s speed camera program the largest in the U.S. The latest data from the New York City Department of Transportation shows that “as of December 2020, speeding at fixed camera locations had dropped, on average, 72%.” Crashes resulting in injuries decreased 8% in school zones with cameras; however, these results do not reflect the later expansion of camera locations and active hours.

Then, New York’s legislature (SB 5602, 2022) eliminated the restriction for cameras to operate solely between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. as of August 2022. The 750 school zone cameras are operational and issuing tickets 24 hours a day to help the city achieve its goal to reduce traffic fatalities to zero.

New York also enacted a law (A 951, 2019) establishing a speed camera demonstration program in school zones in the city of Buffalo, with fines of no more than $50 for drivers traveling more than 10 mph above the posted speed limit in a school zone. However, the school zone camera experiment was short-lived, as community pushback and legal challenges led to the last camera being shut off in the summer of 2021. The Buffalo Common Council passed legislation in 2021 ending the school zone speed camera program and replacing it with radar speed signs and traffic calming measures.

Virginia (HB 1442, 2020) authorized state and local law enforcement agencies to operate speed cameras in school crossing zones. A violation occurs when a motorist is captured by a speed camera driving at least 10 mph over the posted school crossing zone. A law enforcement officer must review and affirm the violation and the maximum penalty may not exceed $100. Localities will receive revenues from violations they issue, and revenues from violations issued by the State Police will be deposited into the Literary Fund for low-interest loans for public schools. Speed camera violations will not be considered a conviction against the driver’s record nor used for insurance purposes unless a law enforcement officer uses a photo speed monitoring device and issues a summons at the time of the violation. Private vendors may provide speed cameras, along with operations and administrative support. Signage indicating the use of speed cameras is required to be placed within 1,000 feet of any school crossing zones. However, as of 2022, no school zone speed cameras are in use in Virginia.

Red-Light Cameras

Red-light running crashes led to around 116,000 injuries and 928 fatalities in 2020, according to IIHS. To combat this dangerous traffic violation made by drivers, some states and local governments have adopted the use of red-light cameras. Red-light cameras link to traffic signals and monitor the green, yellow and red phases of traffic lights. After the light turns red, the camera takes a picture or a video of a moving vehicle before the vehicle enters the intersection and again when the vehicle is in the intersection. Both photos must show the signal in the red phase before issuing a citation. The date, time and location of the violation is also documented.

While some states and municipalities continue to enhance automated enforcement programs, the recent trend has been toward fewer governments using red-light camera programs. IIHS notes that 338 communities operate red-light cameras as of January 2022, compared to 430 communities in 2016.  

In most cases, states who permit the use of red-light cameras have passed enabling statutes with specific provisions to allow local governments to develop red-light camera programs. Currently, city and local governments in 23 states—Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Washington—and the District of Columbia have established red-light camera programs or pilot programs. Iowa allows red-light and speed cameras if they are approved via local ordinance.

Conversely, seven states—Maine, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, South Carolina, South Dakota and West Virginia—have statutes prohibiting using red-light cameras to issue citations to motorists. Nevada prohibits red-light camera programs unless law-enforcement personnel is present when cameras are used. Notably, while Texas enacted a bill banning red-light cameras in 2019, some communities with existing contracts are allowed to continue operating cameras for the time being. Missouri's Supreme Court issued two rulings in 2015 which found that red-light and speed cameras were unconstitutional; only the city of Hannibal, Mo., still employs red-light cameras.

State Legislative Action

Some states have expanded or established the use of red-light cameras in recent years. Hawaii has made several noteworthy enactments since 2019 to introduce red-light camera enforcement. To kick off such efforts, the state created a red-light running committee (SB 663, 2019) to develop policy recommendations for red light camera pilot programs in Honolulu, Maui, Kauai, and Hawaii counties. Subsequently, the state approved (HB 1676, 2020) a two-year red-light camera demonstration program for the city and county of Honolulu which started Jan. 1, 2021. The law also allowed third-party contractors, set maximum fines for first and repeat violations, and prohibited violations from being used for insurance purposes or a driver’s official record. The maximum fine is $200 for a first violation, $300 for a second violation and $500 for a third or subsequent violation within one year of the first violation. Fine revenues are being deposited into a red-light imaging detector systems special fund used to operate and maintain red-light cameras.

To further the expansion of red-light camera enforcement, Hawaii appropriated 2.8 million (HB 766, 2021) over the following three years to support a statewide red-light imaging detector system pilot program. The law required any funds from the 2021 through 2022 fiscal year that were unused by June 30, 2022, to be returned to the special fund. However, in 2022, the state enacted legislation (HB 2336, 2022) to extend the lapsed fund return date for fiscal years 2021 through 2023 to June 30, 2025. This change was made to ensure proper funding is available during the entire two-year pilot program.

New York authorized (SB 415, 2021) the village of Pelham Manor to adopt a local ordinance to install a red-light camera at no more than one intersection within its jurisdiction at any one time. A vehicle owner is liable for any violations which cannot exceed $50; however, any violations will not be included in a driver’s record nor used for insurance purposes. The law requires the village to submit an annual report to the governor and legislature detailing where cameras were placed, along with crash data and the number of citations issued.

While red-light cameras are automated, it’s standard for trained police officers or authorized employees to review every picture or video to verify if a vehicle is in violation of a traffic law. Oregon increased enforcement capacity by enacting legislation (HB 4105, 2022) to permit duly authorized traffic enforcement agents to review red-light photos and other photo radar pictures for purposes of signing and issuing citations. Such agents are appointed by the governing body of the incorporated city and trained to review photographs related to automated enforcement. Previously only law enforcement officers were able to issue citations based on red-light camera photo evidence.

Can Cameras Enforce Distracted Driving Laws?

New South Wales, a state in Australia, has been using cameras to enforce hand-held bans since March 2020. Additionally, the Australian state of Victoria piloted the use of high-definition cameras in 2020 to detect distracted driving and plans to install the cameras on certain roads in 2023.  Montgomery County in Maryland was interested in using this technology and asked the General Assembly to adopt a bill authorizing the county to use it. The bill (HB 875, 2020) did not pass.