Red Light Cameras: Invasion or Saving Grace?


Formerly, my idea for my research presentation was to have a conversation with classmates on this wiki page. I posted some background information on my topic with the hopes that it would spark some conversation with others that I could later synthesize and combine with my further research to form a collective analysis on the topic of red light cameras. Unfortunately, due to the limitations of the wikidot platform and time constraints, I was unable to receive the input I was hoping for. As a result, I am going to consult some other resources to gather more editorial data to include in my synthesis.

I have decided to enlist the help of in my editorial search. They tend to be a community that fosters rich conversation, and their voting system allows users to make relevant and valid arguments more visible. In the comment section of any given thread, the best posts appear first. Although I won't really regard the voting score directly in my choice of what comments to include in my synthesis, I will naturally see top comments first, so unfortunately my gathering cannot be all-inclusive.

Segment One

The main question

Do red light cameras provide enough safety to justify their invasive nature?


Most of us have heard of red light cameras. A few of us may have been unlucky enough to receive a ticket because of one. In essence, they are cameras that snap a picture of the license plate on any car that runs through an intersection after the stoplight turns red. They are becoming more and more common on even local streets.

The presence of red light cameras has become a hotly contested subject in terms of road safety and how its importance may be diminishing the rights of drivers. One of the main problems is that police officer leniency is basically removed from the equation. Consideration possibly given under certain circumstances is replaced by the cold gaze of a machine. There are, however, positive and negative implications to that scenario.

This somewhat cheesy video explains the basic process by which someone receives a red-light camera ticket:

The speaker in the video acknowledges the police presence in the review step of the ticketing process. Though there is still a human element, it can be argued that their role is much more black-and-white compared to a routine traffic stop. For instance, an officer who is physically present to hear the reason why someone ran a red light in the first place may be inclined to give them some sympathy, depending on the circumstance. An officer simply reviewing camera shots is not likely or even really able to do so.

The above link has a ton of information concerning the technology of red light cameras, the judicial process for ticketing, and the exact crimes the cameras are intended to prevent. One problem that the article brings to my attention is the fact that there is an "adjudication process" in the first place.

In a typical traffic stop, the driver knows immediately what they've done. Even before ticketed, they usually know what they are being pulled over for. Many times, the whole ordeal is enough to make the driver regret what they've done. In such a scenario, the process does exactly what it's meant to, which is to make a driver less likely to do the same thing in the future. The red light camera process leaves a time gap between the crime and the judgment, during which the driver may commit countless other repetitions of the very infraction for which they are unknowingly being ticketed.

So how does this stop the crime? In short, it doesn't, at least not until the recipient gets their ticket in the mail.

My opinion thus far

The video indicates that a red light camera ticket is significantly less severe than one issued by a police officer directly to a citizen. In my opinion, the fact that the ticket is less severe is another characteristic that diminishes the effectiveness of the whole process. It's likely that a ticket received in the mail that has little more severity than a parking fine will be regarded with similar importance. As a deterrent for the actual infraction of running a red light, the camera ticket falls short.

Some questions to consider

Are the streets safer as a result?
Would you consider red-light cameras an invasion of privacy?
Is the safety they ideally provide worth the invasion?
What are your thoughts on the effects of this system on due-process?

Segment 2

Discussion and Synthesis

New Jersey driver disputes red light ticket.

In the thread found at this link, a reddit driver was ticketed after taking a right turn at a red light equipped with a camera. His dispute was that he stopped completely at the light, and still received a ticket because he was ahead of the white line. He was distraught because (claims that) he couldn't dispute the ticket. He also argues (probably correctly) that if it were a police officer that witnessed the exchange, he wouldn't have gotten the ticket. To the contrary, as the video in the first section explained, and as this user pointed out, even red light camera citations are reviewed by a real police officer before they are sent to the perpetrator. This user additionally argues that even though the ticket is generated by a camera, the charge can still be disputed.

Police officer offers his opinion

So does that make red light cameras more fair? Perhaps. Even still there is massive controversy about the fairness and productivity of red light cameras for their baseline goal, which is to prevent accidents from happening. In this thread, a police officer weighs in on his opinion concerning the cameras. He leans to the argument that they don't necessarily make streets safer, but only serve as "a way to tax the citizens." He gives a more practical example here, where he shows exactly how the human leniency of a live police officer can affect the morale of the citizens he protects. His stance resonates with the responding users because it shows that the understanding nature of an officer isn't achievable using machines. Neither a red light camera nor the officer reviewing the footage is going to consider the situation in this example.


Is officer consideration part of due-process? Even the constitution's description of due-process is a bit loose as seen here. The fifth amendment seems to deal more explicitly in the arena of capital crime, but its intentional implications may still be important. It's clear that a criminal should not be convicted without the process of a court. So whether or not that same right applies to a traffic ticket is still contested. Unfortunately, the letter of the law, at least on the national level doesn't really give us anything concrete enough for a verdict.

The state law doesn't do much better. It seems that there is such a pushback from the citizens, and even the authorities, that the red light camera ticket is seen as a small-time fine, rather than a moving traffic violation. No points are placed on the violators driving record, and insurance companies don't take the violations as a reason to charge more. It's almost as if the law itself understands that the cold, unrelenting nature of cameras is no way to conduct citizen law enforcement.

So is it invasive? By the definition of many including myself, yes. Sherry Turkle's idea of being "alone together" resonates with the notion that even though there is no officer at your driver's side window, an officer reviews your case and sends a ticket accordingly. A street laced with red light cameras is "always on" and always issuing tickets to any citizen unlucky enough to roll through the wrong intersection. However, the cameras draw such a rebellion from citizens that they've been reduced to very menial authority. A moving ticket from a live officer is still worth way more both in authority and dollar amount.

So to answer the imperative question, do red light cameras provide enough safety to sacrifice citizen privacy? The communal rebellion and the law that reflects it indicates that even if the cameras saved lives (a stance with which the above officer adamantly disagrees), personal rights are a price too high.


Due-process, privacy, leniency, invasion

Works cited:

"Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other [Hardcover]." Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other: Sherry Turkle: 9780465010219: Books. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Oct. 2012. <>.

CMHartHayslett. "What Is a Red Light Camera Ticket?" YouTube. YouTube, 10 Jan. 2012. Web. 20 Oct. 2012. <>.

"Fifth Amendment." LII. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Oct. 2012. <>.

"LifeProTips." LOT: How to Avoid Getting a Red Light Camera Ticket. :. N.p., 3 Jan. 2012. Web. 23 Oct. 2012. <>.

"Newjersey." I Got a Ticket in the Mail from a Red Light Camera in Newark. Watching the Video, I Clearly Stopped and Turned Right on Red. I Don't Live in NJ Anymore. Can I Fight This Ticket without Going to Court? :. N.p., 13 Oct. 2012. Web. 23 Oct. 2012. <>.

"Toss Your Virginia Red-Light Camera Ticket?" Toss Your Virginia Red-Light Camera Ticket? N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Oct. 2012. <>.