In 1982, an eighteen-month-old child was dragged thirteen blocks in her stroller when a car ran through a red light in Manhattan. Although the child was not injured, the incident catalyzed a community safety movement called STOP (Stop Traffic Offense Program). STOP successfully engaged the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) to determine how they could more strictly enforce traffic violations.
For the next five years, STOP and the DOT advocated for the need to install a system of cameras that would record red light violations at high-risk intersections throughout the city. The response from the city was an ordinance that allowed STOP to place cameras at twenty-five locations throughout the city for three years.
Cameras are mounted on poles that are fifty feet behind the stoplights. The camera's field of vision includes both the stoplight and the area under the light that vehicles must pass through. A pair of magnetic loops recognizes the presence of a vehicle and activates the camera when a violation occurs. When the car passes through the first loop, the system records the time, place, and date of the infraction, and then takes a digital photograph of the car and the red light. When the car passes through the second loop, the system marks the time interval between the two loops, confirming that the vehicle has in fact run a red light.
Technicians unload the film from each camera every day for processing and delivery to the DOT. DOT agents then review the film in pairs, one confirming the violation and the other magnifying the photographs to read the vehicle's license plate. If the driver has committed a violation, their information is sent to the New York Department of Motor Vehicles where the proper fines and notices are mailed to the driver.
The Manhattan Office of the Parking Violation Bureau has two hearing rooms set aside for red light infractions. The judges and clerks in these hearing rooms have their own computers with seventeen-inch monitors that project the images of the violations. If a citizen wishes to challenge their violation, the court is equipped to accurately assess the case.
Surprisingly, in the first four months of operation, seventy-six city buses were caught running red lights. The city responded by enacting strong disincentives to bus drivers committing such violations, such as losing a day's pay. The program cites this as its biggest accomplishment to date, aside from an overall downward trend in red light violations.