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Always Evolving: The History – and Future – of Photo Enforcement

Photo enforcement has been a component of many cities’ public safety strategies for decades, offering law enforcement a means to detect and deter red-light running and speeding on a 24/7 basis. As more and more programs have been successful at curbing violations and crashes over the years, word has spread, and so have innovative ideas on how to leverage the technology in new and different ways.

Since its inception in the U.S. about three decades ago, photo enforcement has come a long way in terms of technology, best practices and program operation. However, the core purposes of photo enforcement remain the same: keep communities safe and educate drivers about the consequences of dangerous driving behavior.

Here, we explore where photo enforcement began, where the industry stands today, and where it’s headed.

The Past
In the 1960s, law enforcement used radar technology to monitor traffic, but the technology wasn’t very reliable. It could not gather the information necessary to effectively capture violations, and it wasn’t fully automated, requiring a police officer to use a tuning fork before and after each deployment to ensure radar readings were correct.

Photo enforcement as we know it today was introduced to the U.S. in the 1990s. In fact, Redflex introduced one of the first photo enforcement systems in the U.S. in 1997 in Paradise Valley, Ariz. Early systems utilized in-ground sensors that were embedded in the roadway and traditional across the road radar. Installation required road construction that could interrupt traffic and make it difficult – and expensive – to move systems.

One camera was needed for every lane of traffic, and multiple flashes from different angles ensured there was enough light to see the vehicle. This method struggled to capture usable evidence for multiple simultaneous violations, and low-resolution cameras made it difficult to produce usable images.

The Present
Modern photo enforcement technology is one of the most powerful safety tools in a city’s arsenal. Radar technology has been perfected, with many photo enforcement systems using 3DHD radar, which can identify lane numbers and distinguish multiple vehicles across multiple lanes of traffic. Further, mobile and handheld enforcement technology has also become mainstream, allowing cities to easily monitor complex environments and various roadway conditions.

Today’s photo enforcement systems operate 24/7 in all weather and lighting conditions, producing high-resolution images and video and detailed traffic and vehicle information, depending on the municipality’s requirements. In addition to holding drivers accountable and improving safety, photo enforcement data can be used to track traffic volume and flow throughout the day.

Additionally, modern systems are significantly easier to install, and rotate without any road construction required, and are much more affordable for cities than older systems. Further, specialized systems give cities more options when choosing their photo enforcement focus, such as school-zone speed enforcement and school bus stop-arm enforcement.

The Future
As technology advances, photo enforcement will follow suit. Vehicle detection, data integration and analytics capabilities continue to improve, expanding the possibilities for new types of enforcement that help cities meet their safety goals in new ways. This improved technology will also lower program costs, increase flexibility and reduce the need for extensive infrastructure changes.

As technology has evolved, so have the capabilities and effectiveness of photo enforcement. Current and forthcoming innovations will allow cities to better monitor dangerous driving behaviors and educate the community about safe driving habits. Learn more about Redflex’s photo enforcement solutions.