Traffic Enforcement Using Cameras

Jill Shelley
Principal Research Analyst

Eric Adell
Research Analyst

Cameras are statutorily authorized for use by municipalities in 36 states and the District of Columbia for enforcement of traffic laws, most commonly in enforcement related to speeding, full stops at red lights, and passing school buses that are stopped with the stop arm extended. State laws authorize municipalities or certain municipalities to use such cameras under certain circumstances. Toll agencies, including the Kansas Turnpike Authority, also use video enforcement for toll collection.

Kansas law is silent on the use of cameras to enforce any statutes included in the Uniform Act Regulating Traffic on Highways or similar city ordinances. Bills have been introduced, but not enacted, in Kansas in recent years to authorize cameras on school buses to identify any vehicle passing a school bus stopped with the stop arm extended and lights flashing: 2021-2022 HB 2154, 2019-2020 SB 472 and HB 2532, 2017-2018 HB 2040, and 2016 HB 2470.

Proponents generally state camera enforcement can help reduce behaviors that put lives and property at risk and act as a force multiplier for law enforcement agencies. Opponents have stated enforcement without a law enforcement officer present is unmerited and enforcement from images could be used for surveillance or to raise revenues for the local government.

Costs of Crashes

The map on the following page shows the uses for which states authorize traffic enforcement cameras.

Information in the 2020 Kansas Traffic Crash Facts Annual Accidents Facts Book published by the Kansas Department of Transportation ― which notes 52,469 total crashes, 426 fatalities, and 15,997 people injured in 2020 ― includes the following about types of violations that traffic cameras are most frequently used to enforce in other states:

  • Estimated costs of $6.2 billion for 30,386 crashes involving driver infractions;
  • 4,599 crashes that were speed related, 88 fatalities, 2,071 injured, with associated economic costs of $1.6 billion; and
  • 1,275 crashes in work zones, 2 fatalities, 409 injured, and associated costs of $110 million.

Each crash can have more than one contributing factor, but driver inattention was most common (11,397 crashes). Other top driver contributing circumstances noted were right of way violations (No. 2, noted for 5,901 crashes), driving too fast for conditions (No. 3, 3,978 crashes), and running a red light (No. 12, 1,185 crashes).

School bus violations. The April 2022 Kansas One Day Stop Arm Violation Count found, for the 2,669 buses of 184 districts participating, 882 instances of a vehicle passing when the stop arm was extended.

State Policy Choices

States crafting policy for use of such cameras have many policy choices, such as:

  • Which entities can use camera enforcement;
  • In what capacities contractors can be involved;
  • Whether a traffic violation documented with use of a camera will be a criminal or a civil offense;
  • Whether a law enforcement officer or another type of government employee must review images before notices of violation are sent;
  • Whether information about camera-enforced violations can be used for insurance purposes or determining whether the driver’s license should be restricted or suspended;
  • Whether the images can be used for any purpose other than enforcement of the specific violation;
  • What elements must be present in, or omitted from, the image (e.g., an image of the driver);
  • The image retention period; and
  • Whether and how information is made available to drivers about the presence of enforcement cameras.

Additional sources include:

Authorized Use of Cameras for Law Enforcement in the U.S.