Photo Enforcement

Automated photo speed enforcement takes a real-time photo of traffic to record vehicle speeds and behaviors. It can be used to document speeders and those who drive dangerously through crosswalks. In several evaluations, the presence of photo enforcement at intersections has resulted in fewer drivers running red lights and a decline in collisions (Federal Highway Administration [FHWA], 2004b; FHWA, 2004a). The mere presence or threat of photo speed enforcement at a school may result in better driver compliance and behavior.

Automated photo speed enforcement (photo radar) is just one of many tools law enforcement has to influence driver behavior and reduce vehicle speed. Photo radar systems typically operate on set speed thresholds, e.g. 11 or more miles per hour over the posted speed limit, only capturing images of vehicles moving at, or above the established threshold. When a violation occurs, the system captures speed data, as well as images of the vehicle (and in some systems the driver) at the time of the violation. Citations are typically issued through the mail to the registered owner of the vehicle after a review of the vehicle and registration information is completed.

Photo enforcement technology does not replace traditional methods of traffic enforcement. Rather, it serves as a supplement to traditional traffic enforcement techniques, in addition to educational and engineering efforts designed to enhance traffic safety.

The use of photo enforcement technology may be affected or limited by State or local statutes. Communities wishing to apply this technology to their traffic safety efforts should consult with local courts, prosecuting authorities, law enforcement, and community groups in the planning and development of their photo enforcement programs. Some states do not allow photo speed enforcement and for other states, the areas where photo enforcement is permitted vary. Some states may not allow photo radar in general, but permit it in school zones. Also, in some locations where photo enforcement is not permitted, citizen advocates can petition their legislators to permit its use in school zones. An acceptable compromise may be reached if, for example, photo enforcement is limited to school crossings during school arrival and departure times. Photo radar provides communities with a highly flexible tool that can be deployed when and where it is needed for maximum effect. Most systems also capture data on traffic flow and average speeds, enabling communities to measure the effectiveness of the deployments in relation to crash data for the area.

A permanent, fixed photo speed enforcement camera in a neighborhood will almost never be financially viable, but a mobile photo speed unit that can be carried in vans provides a feasible alternative. Such mobile units can provide excellent citywide coverage for multiple schools. In these cases, a vendor operates the equipment, but police review the photos and issue citations.

The implementation of any photo enforcement program should be carefully planned, have reasonable and attainable expectations, and include public input and political support.  Alerting the public to the photo speed enforcement effort before it begins is critical to avoid negative publicity. Visible warning signs need to be placed in front of the future camera’s location before the effort begins so drivers will understand what will happen. An effective photo enforcement program will allow for the continuous two-way exchange of information with the community and have the flexibility to meet changing traffic safety issues and concerns.

Tool: Photo enforcement


Mobile cameras connected to speed measuring devices record violations and citations can be issued.


  • Flexibility, does not require presence of officer.
  • An effective deterrent to speeding because would-be offenders do not know when camera is operating.
  • An effective part of an overall traffic safety program.


  • Does not replace traditional approach to traffic enforcement
  • Equipment costs.
  • Not allowed in all states.
  • Requires public and political support to be effective
  • Can lead to reaction without effective public education efforts.
  • Requires input from a variety of sources, e.g. courts, prosecutors, community groups for maximum effectiveness