Maryland's Drive to Survive: Red Light Cameras

The Problem

Over the last 10 years, there have been more than 21,700 crashes caused by the failure to obey a traffic signal. Motorists’ seemingly growing disrespect for traffic laws clearly extends to their failure to obey red traffic signals. 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 effectively enforce and reduce red light running. The law authorizes the local police agency responsible for traffic law enforcement 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. The owners of those vehicles are identified from the license tag and, after verification of the violations by a police officer, mailed civil citations. These citations, which presently 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 a safety problem with red light running has been documented, and then only after other means to solve the problems have failed. When used, red light cameras should be part of the 3 “E” process found to be essential in successful traffic safety programs – Education, Enforcement, and Engineering. .

Camera System Implementation

There are at least three approaches a jurisdiction can take 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 purchase, install, and/or operate the camera systems and/or prepare and mail the 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, has invited other local jurisdictions to use its contract at a per-citation-paid fee that decreases as the citation volume increases. For additional 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. Those jurisdictions that have used the contract approaches have found that the revenues usually exceed the contractor fees and other costs. The State Highway Administration (SHA) provides no financial assistance for the 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 and assistance from the SHA. SHA is willing to help a jurisdiction address its safety problem, but requires that red light running problems first be documented. Typical documentation includes: crash data (showing a pattern of crashes involving red light running), traffic citation data (showing tickets issued for this offense), or observational data (showing violations of the red signal).

Requesting Approval

The jurisdiction, not its contractor, must send a request for approval of a camera installation to the appropriate SHA District Traffic Engineer where the jurisdiction is located. The request must identify the proposed location(s), including the approach leg(s) that would be monitored, and provide documentation of the traffic safety issue for each location.

SHA Review

SHA will review the request and, to ensure that there is no engineering factor involved, check the traffic signal operations and sight distances. Alternative improvement plans for the location(s) will also be evaluated. If preliminary approval is given, SHA will ask that the jurisdiction or its contractor submit five sets of the installation plans to the District.

Upon receipt, the SHA District Office will forward the request with the plans as a Design Request to the Office of Traffic and Safety for design approval. The entire approach process can take less than a month from receipt of plans.

Camera Installation

Following approval, and with at least 48 hours advance notice to the Office of Traffic and Safety, the jurisdiction or its contractor can proceed with the camera system installations. SHA will be responsible for providing system connections to a power source and to the signal controller. The installation must be completed in accordance with SHA specifications and is subject to inspection by SHA.

SHA Reimbursement

Prior to release of final approved design plans for camera installation, SHA will require a lump sum payment for costs incurred during SHA’s review of the site and design plans, connection of devices to a power source and existing signal equipment, and post-construction system inspection, in addition to operating costs.

Public Education/Information

Educating the motoring public is a critical component of reducing red light running. Red light cameras will not change poor driving behavior if drivers are unaware that these devices are in use. Jurisdictions should hold well-publicized kickoff events and issue periodic media announcements about productivity and effectiveness.


SHA requires that a standard traffic sign advising motorists of the use of red light cameras be installed in advance of a camera location. Such a sign need not immediately precede each camera location, but a sign must be located in advance of the first camera on that route. In certain cases, area-wide signing is appropriate and acceptable. Sign details are available from the Office of Traffic and Safety.

Local Roads and Signals

Except for the traffic signing requirements, which apply throughout the State, the preceding provisions apply only to red light cameras on State Highways or connected to State signals. Nevertheless, SHA strongly suggests that a 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 additional information and/or assistance concerning red light camera systems, contact the SHA District Office in your area.