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Traffic light cameras: A complete guide

Last updated February 23, 2023

Traffic light cameras, also known as ‘red-light cameras’ were first introduced in the UK in 1991 to help keep the roads as safe as possible.

Commonly found at traffic lights on major junctions, these motion-activated camera devices are designed to stop drivers from speeding through red lights. If they capture your vehicle driving through a red light, you will be issued a fine, in addition to receiving penalty points on your driving licence.

Therefore, it’s important to be aware of what red-light cameras are, where they are usually found, and how they help to keep our roads safe. Stopping at red lights is crucial for keeping yourself and other drivers safe – and red-light cameras help to ensure that motorists obey driving laws.

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How do traffic light cameras work?

Red-light cameras jump into action when the traffic light is on red, ready to photograph any cars passing over the stop line. Some systems will wait for a fraction of a second after the light turns red, offering drivers a slight grace period.

These cameras also don’t activate if a car is sitting over the system’s induction loops; it’s only when a driver moves over both loops in quick succession that the camera determines someone has driven through the red light and takes a photograph.

What does a red-light camera look like?

Red-light cameras are often large, square boxes that are silver, yellow or white in colour. Others are rectangular boxes that look like security cameras.

Here is a simple image of a common red-light camera in the UK:

Image of a red light camera

How do you know if you’ve been caught by a red-light camera in the UK?

If you’ve been caught by a red-light camera, you’ll be informed within 14 days with a Notice of Intended Prosecution (NIP). This will ask the registered owner to name the offending driver, who then has to fill in the form and return it within 28 days.

This will subsequently order the payment of a fixed penalty fine. However, if you feel a mistake has been made, you can appeal this fine.

Can I appeal a red-light camera ticket?

Yes, but there aren’t many defences that will stand up. You may be able to successfully appeal a red-light camera ticket by:

  • Proving you didn’t go through the red light.
  • Proving there was a defect with the lights or related signage.

Having a dash cam in your vehicle could help to prove that a red-light camera was triggered incorrectly. For instance, the dash cam footage from the time of the alleged incident may show that the traffic lights were not red when you crossed the line, which may indicate that the red-light camera was not configured correctly - or the traffic lights themselves were not working as they should.

Other special reasons may be considered and may lead to a re-assessment. However, this is not guaranteed.

Do traffic light cameras always flash?

Unlike speed cameras, traffic light cameras don’t always flash. Some speed cameras also double up as red-light cameras - and these will use an infra-red flash which isn’t visible to the driver. Therefore, it is not always clear when you have been caught.

How accurate are red-light cameras?

Officially, red-light cameras are described as being calibrated to an accuracy of 2%. Any errors are usually the result of a defect or incorrect calibration.

Does every traffic light have a camera?

No, not every traffic light has a camera, but they are very common. Traffic light cameras are often found at bigger and busier junctions. If a junction is known to be an accident hotspot, it is also more likely to feature a red-light camera.

Where can you find red-light cameras?

Red-light cameras are usually placed on tall silver or white metal poles, either slightly before or after the traffic light itself. Sometimes, red-light cameras are also mounted on top of street light poles.

How does the technology behind the red-light cameras work?

Traffic light cameras detect and record vehicles’ speed, using a tracking radar or electronic detectors embedded within the surface of the road. These detectors accurately measure the speed of vehicles. If a vehicle exceeds the speed limit – or crosses the line whilst the light is red, a photo is taken.

Can red-light cameras be faulty?

Yes, as with any type of electronic equipment, red-light cameras can be faulty.

What is the margin of error for red-light cameras?

Many traffic light cameras give drivers about 0.2 seconds’ grace. Some might give slightly more, although others allow no margin of error at all.

Other Frequently Asked Questions

Aside from receiving a fine, if you’re caught by a red-light camera, you could also find yourself involved in a serious accident, as you have put the safety of yourself and other road users at risk.

Red-light cameras are sometimes placed at pedestrian crossings, although this is not always the case.

Red-light cameras, also known as ‘Gatso cameras’ utilise radar technology - and are capable of recording both speed and red-light infractions.

Yes, traffic light cameras can operate in the infrared light spectrum, enabling them to work at night.

No, traffic light cameras will not flash on yellow. The camera is only triggered when the light is on red.

Google Maps will show speed cameras, but not traffic light cameras.

As with Google Maps, Waze displays speed cameras, but not traffic light cameras.