Market to Fight Red-Light-Running Heats Up

Lockheed Martin IMS yesterday announced a $28 million deal with Washington, D.C., to begin installing cameras and imaging systems at 40 city intersections in the nation's capital to deter motorists from charging through red lights.

Washington's deal is the latest in a rash of contracts for automated imaging technology that captures motorists running red lights. With a similar high-visibility deal in New York City, Electronic Data Systems Corp. is now poised to deliver systems to a spate of Maryland jurisdictions, looking to piggyback on an existing contract that the Plano, Texas-based company has in place with Howard County, Md.

Lockheed Martin and EDS have emerged as two giants in a small group of companies offering technology to crack down on drivers who run red lights. That market has heated up significantly since more states have passed legislation to allow such devices to be used. Eight states are using the technology, and about six are looking to pass laws to do so this year. Delaware is even considering rolling out a statewide system.

Because photo enforcement involves no first-hand witness of a traffic violation by a police officer, states must enact legislation to allow police departments to use the technology. Also, law enforcement agencies do not issue citations to drivers who are caught, by computers, running red lights. Instead, a "notice of liability," which is not reported to auto insurance companies and which lobs no points onto one's driver's license, is sent to the owner of a vehicle that is caught, in freeze-frame images, zooming through a red light.

Digital cameras used to catch red-light-runners are usually nestled about 50 to 75 feet off a road's shoulder. Depending on obstructions surrounding an intersection, the cameras can capture up to three lanes of traffic. The cameras are activated by electromagnetic sensors inserted into small trenches dug into the white lines that mark off each traffic intersection. If a light is red and a car moves over the sensors, the system is triggered.

"When a car crosses the first sensor and the light is red, the first image is taken to show that the light is red and that the vehicle has moved beyond the sensor. A second picture is taken as the vehicle is in the middle of the intersection, and the purpose of that image is to show that the driver has violated the intersection," said Jack Fleming, director of public safety programs at EDS Government Industry Group.

Those photos are stamped with a data bar showing the time, date and identification number of the camera that snapped the picture. Also marked on the images is the time when the traffic light in question stayed in the "amber" mode, said Fleming, referring to a yellow or caution light. Most traffic lights stay yellow for about three to four seconds, depending on rules outlined by the state's Department of Motor Vehicles.

"The goal here is to reduce traffic risks and modify behavior -- to get folks to act responsibly at intersections," Fleming said. Once the target of controversy, red-light-running technology now enjoys a 70 percent acceptance rate according to recent polls completed by insurance companies, Fleming said.

Motorists nailed by the red-light enforcement system will have to cough up $50 to $250 in California for the infraction. Police departments have review boards in place to examine images and decide whether to mail notices to drivers.

But motorists draw the line at similar technology to enforce speed limits. "There is now the ability to use photo radar speed enforcement, but people just don't accept that idea. The fact is that most everybody speeds, but most people don't blow red lights," Fleming said.

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