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Maryland's Drive to Survive: Red-Light Cameras

The Problem

Over the last 10 years, more than 21,700 crashes were caused by the failure to obey a traffic signal. Enforcing red-light running through conventional enforcement techniques has proven to be difficult at many locations.

An Effective Approach

Maryland enacted a law in 1997 that can help communities reduce red-light running. It authorizes local police to install a traffic control signal monitoring system, commonly known as a red-light camera.

How It Works

Pole-mounted cameras record images of vehicles that unlawfully enter the intersection after the a traffic signal’s indication turns red. Vehicle owners are identified from the license tag and, after verification of the violations by a police officer, mailed civil citations. These citations, which carry a $75 fine, can be contested in court.

Red-light cameras are not a panacea for intersection safety problems. They should be installed only where red-light running is documented, and then only after other solutions have failed. Red-light cameras are part of the 3 “E” process essential in traffic safety programs – Education, Enforcement, and Engineering.

Camera System Implementation

A jurisdiction can take either of three approaches to establishing a red-light camera system. The jurisdiction can:

  1. Purchase, install and operate the camera systems and process the citations.
  2. Contract with a commercial firm that specializes in these systems, which would install and operate the camera systems, and issue citations. A law enforcement officer must verify the violation and sign the citation. The firm typically charges a set fee for each citation when a fine is collected.
  3. Enter into an agreement with another jurisdiction that has a contract with a camera system firm and pay the service fees as in Approach 2.

Howard County, the first jurisdiction in Maryland to install red -light cameras, invited other jurisdictions to contract at a per-citation-paid fee that decreases as the citation volume increases. For information concerning Howard County’s program, contact the Commander of the Howard County Automated Enforcement Division at 410-313-7531.


The agency/jurisdiction is responsible for all costs associated with the camera system. To fund local red-light camera systems, Maryland law provides that revenues collected from citations issued using a camera system revert to the jurisdiction. Jurisdictions that have used the contract approach found that the revenues usually exceed the fees and other costs. The Maryland Department of Transportation State Highway Administration (MDOT SHA) provides no financial assistance for local camera systems.


Installing a red-light camera along a State highway or on an approach to a State-owned and maintained traffic signal requires approval by MDOT SHA. MDOT SHA helps jurisdictions address safety problems but requires that red-light running be documented. Documentation includes crash data (showing a pattern of crashes involving red light running), traffic citation data, or observational data (showing violations of the red signal).

Requesting Approval

Send a request for approval of a camera installation to the MDOT SHA District Traffic Engineer in your jurisdiction. Identify the proposed location(s), including the approach leg(s) to be monitored, and document the traffic safety issue for each location. Note: Contractors cannot request approval.


MDOT SHA will review the request and, to ensure that there is no engineering factor, check the traffic signal operations and sight distances. Alternative improvement plans will also be evaluated. If preliminary approval is given, MDOT SHA will ask you or your contractor to submit five copies of the installation plans.

Upon receipt, the MDOT SHA district office will forward the request with the plans as a Design Request to the Office of Traffic and Safety for approval. The process usually takes less than a month.

Camera Installation

Following approval, and with at least 48 hours' notice to the Office of Traffic and Safety, you or your contractor can install the camera system installations. MDOT SHA will be responsible for providing system connections to a power source and to the signal controller. The installation must comply with MDOT SHA specifications; it is subject to inspection by MDOT SHA.

MDOT SHA Reimbursement

Prior to release of final approved design plans for camera installation, MDOT SHA will require that you pay for costs incurred during review of the site and design plans, connection of devices to a power source and existing signal equipment, and post-construction inspection, in addition to operating costs.

Public Education/Information

Educating the motoring public is a critical component of reducing the number of drivers who run red lights. Red-light cameras will not change poor driving behavior if drivers don't know that these devices are in use. Your jurisdiction should hold well-publicized kickoff events and issue periodic media announcements about productivity and effectiveness.


MDOT SHA requires that you install a standard traffic sign advising motorists of the use of red-light cameras in advance of a camera location. A sign must be located in advance of the first camera on a route; a sign need not immediately precede each camera location. In certain cases, area-wide signing is acceptable. Obtain sign details from the MDOT SHA Office of Traffic and Safety.

Local Roads and Signals

These provisions, except for traffic-signing requirements, (which apply throughout the State), apply only to red-light cameras on State highways and State signals. Nevertheless, MDOT SHA strongly suggests that your political subdivision install camera systems only where an engineering review has established a safety justification, and when the installation will be accompanied by a public information/education effort.

Additional Information

For information, contact the MDOT SHA district office in your area.