The SFMTA uses cameras to enforce red light running and illegal right turns under the Automated Photo Enforcement System (AES). Forward facing cameras are also used on buses to enforce Transit Only lanes under the Transit Only Lane Enforcement (TOLE) Program.
San Francisco’s “Transit-First” policy encourages residents and visitors to utilize public transportation, bicycles and walking to travel the city. We have designated “Transit Only Lanes” and “Transit Only Stops” to only be used by authorized vehicles. Because of their restricted use, transit lanes and stops must remain clear to provide timely service to riders and to allow for the safe entry and exit of transit riders. Please read road signs to understand where and when restrictions apply. To enforce Transit Only lanes, San Francisco uses forward facing cameras on buses. If your vehicle is stopped or parked within a transit only lane, the bus camera will take a photograph of the vehicle's license plate and a citation will be issued to the vehicle’s owner.
The Automated Photo Enforcement Program is a combined effort of the SFMTA, which manages program administration and equipment maintenance, with support from the San Francisco Police Department and the San Francisco City Attorney's Office. The SFMTA's combined automated photo enforcement, engineering and education efforts have resulted in a significant drop in related collisions during the past ten years.
Decisions for the placement of red light cameras are based on public safety with priority going to the intersections in the City with the highest collision rates. Also, due to the the high cost of installing automated photo enforcement cameras, we try to implement all other traffic safety measure first before considering an automated photo enforcement installation at an intersection. We only take photos at 26 intersections with automated camera enforcement equipment.
Citations are issued within 15 days of the violation date to the registered owner of the vehicle on file with the Department of Motor Vehicles. The court sends a courtesy warning separately to the registered owner of the vehicle within 30 days of the violation. For questions about a citation you have recieved, contact the Superior Court of California, County of San Francisco at 415.551.8550.
Having your picture taken or seeing a flash does not mean you will be issued a citation—for example, cameras are also frequently tested on Monday/Wednesday/Friday mornings during green lights and will not result in a citation. It is also possible that someone beside or behind you ran the red light or made an illegal right turn, and that was the person being photographed. Due to sensor placement at the camera system located at Market St and Octavia Blvd, at times there will be a flash at this location even though there has not been any violation of the right turn.
The automated camera enforcement system uses a Schneider lens, a high-speed industrial camera, and a high-speed flash that are connected to and controlled by a computer. The computer is connected to the traffic signal and sensors embedded in the road. A locked and bullet-resistant housing protects the system.
The automated camera enforcement system is activated, and enforcement begins, when the signal light turns red. Once the signal light turns green, the system automatically turns off and enforcement ends. The system is designed so that it can only take a photograph during a red light and cannot take a photograph during a yellow or green light. In other words, the system cannot take a picture unless and until the light facing the driver is red. The system is programmed so that drivers who enter the intersection on a green light and find themselves in the intersection as the light turns yellow or red are not photographed. This system is designed to catch only those violators who enter the intersection after the traffic signal has turned red.
The camera will take two pictures: one of the approaching driver before entering the intersection, and one of the vehicle 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 pass the stop line, that will be apparent in the second photo and a ticket will not be issued.
By State law, these photographs are confidential. If you were involved in a collision at an interseciton with an AES camera, the photographs can only be provided to the driver of the vehicle receiving the citation.
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 if there is an approximate age and gender match.
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.
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
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.
For other program inquiries, please contact the SFMTA by calling 311 (for calls outside San Francisco, call 415.701.2311), or use the 311 self-service form.