How does the system work?

by jeremy on April 4, 2012

There are two oval shaped sensors imbedded in the pavement about 12 to 15 feet back from the crosswalk that detect the speed of your car as you approach the intersection. (You can usually see the marks where they were installed – they are similar to the large circles that detect if a car is waiting to change the signal to green.) The sensors measure your speed, take into account the phase of the light, and do an instantaneous math calculation: if you are going too fast to stop, but too slow to make it into the intersection before the light turns red, it activates the cameras.

The system is far from perfect – only around half of the time the system is activated is a ticket actually issued. For example, if you approach an intersection at a high rate of speed, and then slam on your breaks and stop before the line, you can set off the cameras but not actually run the light. The police actually do this – called “short stopping” – on a regular basis to check the system is working. The system may also incorrectly estimate your speed (for example if you are accelerating) and your vehicle makes it into the intersection before the light turns red. If any part of your bumper is past the first line before the light changes to red, you are not guilty. This is a good defense to beat your ticket.

When the system is activated, three pictures and a video are taken. The video is taken from the rear and runs from about six seconds before you reach the intersection. The three photos are those you should already be familiar; one (allegedly) before you reached the intersection, a second in the middle of the intersection, and one more from the front, used to identify the driver. The information is sent to the camera company in Arizona, where the incidents are reviewed. Clear non-violations are removed, and potential violations are then forwarded to your local police department. Officers review the video, check the DMV info, and then approve a citation to be issued.

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