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Beware of the Eye in the Sky

In this day and age, it’s naïve for drivers to assume they can get away with traffic violations under the pretext that “nobody’s watching.” As many of you may already know, police have been regularly using photo enforcement to issue citations for speeding and running red lights for over a decade.

Photo enforcement is a method of law enforcement in which police departments utilize hidden (sometimes in plain sight) cameras that detect whether a vehicle is in violation of a traffic law and produce photographic evidence. If the driver is violating a traffic law, he or she can expect to receive a ticket within one to three weeks.

How Does It Work?

To photo enforce red light laws, cameras are connected to the traffic signals while sensors are buried in the pavement at the stop line. If someone runs a red light, the camera will take two pictures of violators: one when the vehicle crosses the stop line and a second one when it’s in the intersection.

In order for the red light cameras to take a picture, vehicles must be traveling in excess of a certain speed (which will vary by city) and enter the red light after a certain amount of time has elapsed. This prevents drivers from being ticketed for legal right turns on red or yielding to traffic before making a legal left turn when it clears. Drivers are also not ticketed for driving through a yellow light that turns red before they clear the intersection.

Speed cameras utilize photo-radar technology which triggers the device to take photographs only when the vehicle exceeds the speed limit by a certain amount. So the speed cameras don’t generally ticket people for slightly exceeding the speed limit.

Typically, all photo enforcement tickets are verified by human beings that review the photographic evidence to make sure it all adds up. These verifiers will review the photos that include the time, date, place and sometimes even an image of the driver. If the verifier can confirm that a violation took place, a ticket will be issued to whoever is registered for the vehicle.

Where Are These Cameras?

For obvious reasons, photo enforcement cameras are most commonly used in densely populated cities. Although the exact location of every single photo enforcement camera is not known, there is an online resource that allows users to report specific places that photo enforcement cameras are used and even tell people how much the fine is if they found out the hard way.

Most cities will be inclined to install photo enforcement cameras at dangerous intersections that have seen more than their fair share of accidents. For example, San Francisco recently made the news by installing a camera at the corner of Market and Octavia, which is statistically their most dangerous intersection.

Furthermore, drivers should be wary of the fact that photo enforcement applies to more than just speeding and running red lights. The aforementioned intersection in San Francisco doesn’t have a camera for speeding or running red lights, but rather for illegal right turns.

Drivers should expect photo enforcement to become increasingly common in all major U.S. cities and understand that it could apply to any and every traffic law. Photo enforcement cameras are also less commonly used to monitor bicycle and bus lanes, parking meters and even carpool lanes.

If you don’t want to find out where the cameras are the hard way, the best thing to do is obey every applicable traffic law and just assume that photo enforcement cameras are everywhere. Who knows, maybe someday they will be!