|General Info | Locations | Program Fact Sheet | Q & A
Running red lights is a serious public safety issue. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that red light running crashes alone caused 762 deaths in 2008 in the United States. An estimated 165,000 people are injured annually by red light runners.
The San Francisco Red Light Photo Enforcement Program is a combined effort of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which manages program administration and equipment maintenance, with support from the San Francisco Police Department and the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office.
If you have any questions, please contact the SFMTA Red Light Photo Enforcement Program Manager for San Francisco at 415-701-4591 or email us at email@example.com. For questions about a Notice to appear you have received, please contact the Superior Court of California, County of San Francisco at 415-551-8550.
INTERSECTIONS EQUIPPED WITH PHOTO ENFORCEMENT
Bryant Street & Sixth Street
Street & Van Ness Avenue
Ellis Street & Larkin Street
Fell Street & Masonic Avenue
Folsom Street & First Street
Franklin Street & Geary Street
Harrison Street & Eighth Street
Harrison Street & Fifth Street
Harrison Street & Third Street
Howard Street & Fifth Street
Howard Street & Fourth Street
Howard Street & Ninth Street
Marina Boulevard & Lyon Street
Mission Street & Fifth Street
Mission Street & Seventh Street
Mission Street & Fifteenth Street
Oak Street & Octavia Boulevard
Park Presidio Boulevard & Fulton Street
Park Presidio Boulevard & Geary Boulevard
Park Presidio Boulevard & Lake Street
Pine Street & Polk Street
Polk Street & Hayes Street
Richardson Avenue & Francisco Street
Sloat Boulevard & Nineteenth Avenue
South Van Ness Avenue & Fourteenth Street
With its compact driving environment and dense network of signalized intersections, red light running in San Francisco reached a public safety crisis in 1994, when a motorist ran a red light near San Francisco State University. The driver swerved to avoid another vehicle and lost control, injuring 13 pedestrians at the corner waiting for a bus. This led then Supervisor Susan Leal to begin a campaign to utilize cameras for red light photo enforcement in San Francisco. At San Francisco's urging the California Legislature built on the success of automated camera enforcement at railroad grade crossings by extending the authority to use automated camera enforcement at signalized intersections. This law took effect in 1996.
The San Francisco County Transportation Authority authorized $250,000 from sales tax revenues to begin a pilot Red Light Photo Enforcement Program. In October 1996, San Francisco contracted with two vendors to implement the pilot project and became the first city in California to utilize automated camera enforcement for red light violations. The San Francisco Red Light Photo Enforcement Program began enforcement in October 1996, and has been in continuous operation since then.
The Program has expanded from the original pilot project of five cameras rotated among five intersections, to 29 cameras rotated among 25 intersections today. This expansion effort was primarily funded by the City and County of San Francisco through fines collected from red light violators. Fines received from red light violations also fund on-going traffic safety initiatives by the SFMTA’s Sustainable Streets Division. These combined red light running enforcement, engineering and education efforts have resulted in a significant drop in these types of collisions during the past ten years. Link to Collision Report.
HOW AUTOMATED ENFORCEMENT WORKS
Equipment and Photographs
The automated camera enforcement system is equipped with a computer, high-speed industrial 35 mm camera, high-speed flash, and sensors embedded in the roadway. The Camera Unit, comprised of the computer, camera, and flash, is housed in a locked, tamper-resistant and bullet-resistant cabinet. The cabinet is mounted on a pole located near one corner of the monitored intersection. At many intersections, an auxiliary flash is mounted on a separate pole. The sensors are embedded in the roadway just before the crosswalk or limit line, where vehicles must stop for a red light signal. Two sensors are placed in succession in each monitored lane to detect moving vehicles.
The computer in each Camera Unit controls the camera and flash. The computer is programmed to monitor vehicles crossing over the sensors, determine the approximate speed of vehicles as they cross over the sensors, and record the change of the signal from green to yellow to red. Each computer is programmed so that the camera is powered and activated to take the first photograph of the violation only after the signal turns red. If operating properly, the camera can only take the first photograph of the violation when the signal is red. The camera is incapable of taking the first photograph when the signal is yellow or green if operating properly. When the computer detects the signal has been red for 0.3 seconds or longer, and the vehicle speed is greater than 15 mph, the computer will activate the camera to take two photographs of the vehicle. The first photograph is taken when the vehicle is at the limit line: after it crosses both sensors and before it enters the intersection. The second photograph is taken as the vehicle proceeds through the intersection. Violation data from the computer in each Camera Unit is imprinted on the photographs as they are taken.
Trained technicians maintain and service each Camera Unit on a weekly basis. At the time of their on-site inspections, the technicians document their service and maintenance inspections by filling out a form entitled “Field Technician Service and Inspection Log.” Each log includes the date, time, location of the Camera Unit, whether the Camera Unit was operating properly, a description of any malfunction, and any work performed to fix the malfunction. Each log is signed and dated by the technician performing the inspection. When a technician determines that a system has malfunctioned, the photographs taken during the period the Camera Unit was malfunctioning are destroyed. No ‘tickets’ (Notices to Appear) are issued based on these photographs. Each Camera Unit has a separate log for each day that the Camera Unit is inspected.
Trained technicians view the two photographs to ensure that the photographs and violation data show that the vehicle entered the intersection after the signal turned red. By viewing both photographs, the technicians can identify and reject photographs of vehicles that came to a rapid stop as they were crossing the sensors and did not go through the intersection. The process of viewing and verifying the photographs is repeated twice by separate technicians who work independently of each other.
Next, an authorized individual uses the license plate of the vehicle to obtain the name, address, driver’s license number, and identifying information, including gender, of the registered owner of the vehicle from the California Department of Motor Vehicles. A Notice to Appear is prepared and addressed to the registered owner.
The Notice to Appear and all the relevant documentation are presented to a San Francisco Police Officer for review. If the Officer determines that there is reasonable cause to believe that a violation occurred, then the Officer signs and issues the Notice to Appear. The signed Notice to Appear is mailed to the registered owner along with four images of the violation (the two photographs of the violation, and close-up images of the license plate and driver of the vehicle produced by zooming in and cropping the second violation photograph). If the registered owner responds to the Court to identify another driver of the vehicle at the time of the violation, the Notice to Appear may or may not be issued to the identified driver.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Here are answers to some of the most common Red Light Photo Enforcement questions.
Q. What is a red light running violation?
A. Red light running violation is defined in California Vehicle Code Section 21453 as entering an intersection when facing a steady red or steady red arrow traffic signal.
Q. How is the placement of red light camera determined?
A. Decisions for the placement of red light cameras are based on red light running collision data with priority going to the intersections in the City with the highest collision rates. Also, due to the high cost of installing red light cameras, we try to implement all other traffic safety measures first before considering a red light camera installation at an intersection.
Q. I saw a flash during a green light. What happened?
A. Camera Technicians run tests (typically on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings) by taking pictures during green light signaling periods. These pictures are clearly labeled “TEST” and are used only to ensure that the cameras are operating correctly.
Q. I went through the intersection on yellow, but my picture was taken. Will I get a ticket?
A. The camera cannot take a picture during a yellow light if operating properly. It is hardwired to the traffic signal controller and it can only take pictures when the light is red. It is possible that someone behind you ran the red light, and that was the person that was photographed. It is also possible that the camera was taking a test shot (see question above). The length of the yellow light and how long into the red light is clearly recorded on all photos. Citations are only issued to drivers who enter the intersection during the red light.
Q. My picture was taken, but I stopped. Will I get a ticket?
A. We take pictures of drivers BEFORE they are in the intersection and once they are in the intersection after the signal has turned red. Pictures are taken to show the car behind the stop line after the light has turned red and to show the car in the intersection during the red
. If the driver stops before going through the intersection, that will be apparent in the 2nd photo and a ticket will not be issued.
Q. I think I may have been photographed entering an intersection with a camera. When will I receive the notice to appear?
A. Within 15 days. If you do not receive a citation within 15 days and assuming your address and registration information is current, a citation may not have been be issued. The court sends a courtesy warning separately to the registered owner of the vehicle, which should be received within 30 days of the violation.
Q. Why is the City doing this program?
A. The Red Light Photo Enforcement Program aims to reduce the collisions, property damage, injuries and deaths caused by red light running. Collisions caused by red light running are typically “t-bone”or “broadside” crashes (the cars crash at a 90 degree angle to each other), which are among the most severe types of crashes, particularly at high speeds.
Q. Where does the money from the tickets go?
A. To cover the costs of sustaining the Red Light Photo Enforcement Program and other traffic safety programs managed by the SFMTA.
Q. I was in a collision, and I want to know who is at fault. Can I find out if there was a photograph taken?
A. We only take photographs at the 25 intersections that have automated camera enforcement equipment. In accordance with state law, all photographs are confidential and can only be provided to the party receiving a Notice to Appear or citation.