Traffic Camera vs Red Light Camera, What’s the Difference?

Traffic cameras monitor traffic flow while red light cameras detect and photograph when a driver runs a red light, which can result in a ticket fine.
Written by Mary Cahill
Reviewed by Jessica Barrett
Updated on Oct 27, 2022
We’ve all heard about red light cameras snapping pictures of motorists slipping past the intersection after the traffic light has turned red, resulting in that driver receiving a red light camera ticket fine in the mail. Traffic cameras, on the other hand, simply monitor the flow of traffic and oversee the general driving conditions of roadways in certain areas. Traffic camera systems do not result in drivers receiving a ticket for a moving violation. 
There are different types of cameras on the side of the road or positioned beside traffic lights to keep an eye on traffic conditions with the goal of keeping roads safer for drivers. Non-enforcement traffic cameras do not issue tickets. Red light cameras are automated traffic enforcement cameras that can and will issue traffic tickets to those who violate traffic laws.
To help you learn more about how traffic cameras differ from red light cameras,
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What are traffic cameras? 

Traffic cameras are non-enforcement surveillance cameras that oversee general traffic conditions. The municipality that monitors traffic cameras is the Department of Transportation (DOT), which operates at the state level. 
You cannot receive a
speeding ticket
or any other traffic violation ticket just from being filmed on a traffic camera. This is why the traffic camera program is known as non-enforcement surveillance. 

What are red light cameras?

Red light cameras are designed to discourage and prevent red light running. This safety camera system is part of a traffic safety enforcement program backed by state law.
Red light cameras are enforcement cameras. They’re connected to traffic signal lights and sensors that monitor movement at the stop line just ahead of the crosswalk of an intersection. If you run a red light, the red light camera automatically takes a photo of your license plate number which is then linked to the registered owner of the vehicle. 

Can you get a red light camera ticket?

Yes. Red light cameras work by communicating with the sensors that oversee activity at the intersection as part of the camera enforcement system. 
The sensors also monitor the light timing, so if the light has turned red and a vehicle passes through the intersection anyway, this triggers the red light camera to photograph that vehicle. Afterward, a traffic ticket for a red light violation will be mailed to the vehicle owner. 

Pros and cons of red light cameras

Red light cameras are in use throughout many jurisdictions from state to state but the debate about their very existence continues. Let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons surrounding red light cameras. 

Pro: Red light cameras can prevent accidents at busy intersections

Implementing red light cameras at high-traffic intersections has decreased the frequency at which red lights are run, and reduced the risk of collisions. Installing red light cameras at intersections located within school zones has also proven to be a worthy safety precaution. 

Con: Red light cameras may not decrease the number of accidents overall

On the contrary, red light cameras fail to decrease the overall number of accidents—and they might even cause them! Research has indicated that the presence of red light cameras can actually increase the likelihood of a rear-end accident due to drivers stopping abruptly to avoid being captured on camera. 

Pro: Red light cameras help amend unsafe habits for some drivers

Studies show that nine out of ten drivers who received a ticket for running a red light after it was documented on camera did not receive a second violation. Red light cameras can aid law enforcement in penalizing drivers who break the law and put others in danger—with the hope that these motorists will learn their lesson and amend their driving habits. 

Con: Red light cameras are a ploy for profit

Some cities with red light cameras are more concerned with generating a profit off of ticketing people than making the roads safer. When Chicago set up its citywide red light camera system it simultaneously shortened the duration of yellow lights. Not only did this cause more drivers to be ticketed, but it also increased rear-end collisions throughout the city.  

Red light cameras vs speed cameras

What about speed cameras? Unlike red light cameras which are set up stationary to the traffic light, there are mobile speed cameras in addition to stationary ones.
Like red light cameras, speed cameras are also enforcement cameras, but instead of catching drivers who run red lights, they nab drivers for passing the speed limit. The speed camera captures your vehicle and license plate and then mails a speeding ticket to the vehicle’s registered owner. 

How to find cheap car insurance (even with a violation on your driving record) 

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