By Julia Glendening

Charlottesville Tomorrow

Friday, August 7, 2009

Cameras that capture the identity of vehicles running red lights are coming to three busy intersections in Albemarle County.  The Board of Supervisors unanimously approved an ordinance on August 5, 2009 to implement the “photo red” system at the following locations:

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John Miller,

Albemarle County Chief of Police

Albemarle County Chief of Police, John Miller, said the Police Department hopes photo red will reduce the number of accidents at these intersections and change the behavior of drivers by promoting voluntary compliance. He said the intersection of U.S. 29 and Rio Road is too large for police to effectively patrol from their vehicles due to the danger of quickly pulling out into traffic. In 2008, police issued 94 traffic summonses for red light violations at the intersection. However, 121 violations were recorded during a single 12-hour study of the intersection on June 29, 2009.

“Photo Red provides us the technology to monitor and enforce red light violations 24 hours a day,” said Miller. “It is an alternative to staffing issues for law enforcement agencies throughout the county.”

In 2007, the Virginia General Assembly

passed legislation

to allow localities to implement photo red. The legislation authorizes Albemarle County to install cameras at up to nine intersections based on a ratio of one intersection per 10,000 residents. The Virginia Department of Transportation must approve each intersection before cameras are installed. A sign will then be placed at a minimum of 500 feet before the intersection warning motorist of the camera’s presence.

The system is designed to record vehicles that enter the intersection half a second after the light has turned red. The vehicle is photographed both as it crosses the intersection’s brake line and as it passes through the intersection. A close up photo captures the rear license plate. The violation is also recorded by six seconds of video prior to the violation and continues for six seconds after.

Once a violation has been captured on film, a police officer reviews the film and can either accept or reject the violation. The actual summons are handled by a private company that will mail a summons to the violator who can view the pictures and film on the internet. If a vehicle owner would like to appeal the violation, they can request to meet with the officer to review the evidence. The penalty is a $50 fine without court fees and DMV driver points are not assessed.

Source: Albemarle County Police Department


Lindsay Dorrier

(Scottsville) asked how the County would be able to pay for the system. Miller said the monthly cost to lease a camera is $4,500 and the County would need a minimum of three violations per day for thirty days to pay for a camera. He said this is far below the observed 121 violations during the intersection study; however, if there are not enough violations the cameras are shut down by the contracted company without any cost to the County.

“Real success would be if we have a reduction in the violations, we have a reduction in accidents, and we get to the point where the camera is no longer good,” said Miller.


Dennis Rooker

(Jack Jouett) asked whether people who are stuck in an intersection due to traffic would receive a ticket. Miller assured him the officer reviewing the tape would see the circumstances and not penalize those drivers.

In response to a question from Supervisor

Ken Boyd

(Rivanna), Miller explained vehicles must come to a complete stop before turning right on red in order to avoid a ticket.

Public comments included concerns about an increase in rear end crashes, but Miller said the required signage before an intersection should eliminate rear end crashes. Also, Vienna and Alexandria implemented the system and Miller said these towns did not have a reported increase in rear end crashes.

“You get a tendency for people to feel empowered to run the light,” said Supervisor

David Slutzky

(Rio). “If people know they are going to be caught because there is a red light [camera] in operation at that intersection, I think it will have chilling effect on that behavior.”



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