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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883


Stop when you see red

It’s been over a decade since the city of Spokane placed its first traffic enforcement cameras at intersections.  Yes, they are moneymakers, but the more-worthy reason they were placed, expanded and remain today is to save lives.

The number of Spokane “red-light” cameras began with three and has proliferated to the current ten.  There are maps and lists of the affected intersections available via the web, along with an informative city site at:  There, drivers can learn the details of both the Photo-Red and Photo-Speed cameras.

Strict red light enforcement has shown to reduce deadly “T-bone” collisions at intersections.  Nearly one-thousand U.S. motorists have perished each of the last two years in such wrecks caused by red light runners. During those two years, there were over 250,000 intersection injuries.

Enforcement is a proven way to induce law compliance, but the police cannot watch every intersection. Cameras fill the void.  An Insurance Institute Highway Safety study revealed that cameras reduced the fatal red light running crash rate of large cities by 21 percent and the rate of all types of fatal crashes at signalized intersections by 14 percent.

It is important to remember that the photo enforcement system is not a trap to trick or ticket drivers.  It only affects lawbreakers — in this case, those who fail to stop when the light has turned red.  If the light is amber (yellow or orange) when your front bumper crosses the stop line at the entrance of the intersection, you are allowed to clear the intersection legally.  However, if the red light is lit as the front of your vehicle crosses the stop line, you will be cited.  If you enter the intersection (beyond the stop line) upon a red light indication it will cost you at least $136.

And don’t forget, right-turners who turn on red without making a complete stop will be ticketed.  40% of the 15,000 or so tickets issued each year here are for those violations.  A “California” or rolling stop will be unveiled in the photo sequence.

The city splits revenue with the company that installs and operates the cameras. Still, there have been millions collected and used for road improvement and safety additions.

Though the fine stings, hopefully it will serve as a reminder to strive for more precise intersection behavior.  One “bonus” is that tickets for infractions created by this system are issued to the registered owner of the vehicle, like parking tickets, so do not affect your license, driving record or insurance rates.  It’s still best, though, if you stop when the light is red — then there’s no penalty at all.

The cameras are likely to stay.  An IIHS study compared large cities that turned off red light cameras with those with continuous camera programs. In 14 cities that shut down their programs during 2010-14, the fatal red light running crash rate was 30 percent higher than would have been expected if they had left the cameras on.

Spokane intersection collisions have slowed since the Photo-Red program has been in force along with even more of a decline in related deaths.

Such results are typical.  When drivers become accustomed to the passive enforcement in U.S. cities, both accident rates AND the violation rates decline.  That affects revenue, but it’s okay — as I said, the more-worthy goal of the program is to save lives.

Readers may contact Bill Love via e-mail at