First introduced in 1991, red light cameras are used at busy junctions to help keep our roads as safe as possible.

But whether you’ve accidentally run a red light or unknowingly sailed through a junction just as it’s changing from amber, it’s not always clear that you’ve been caught.

Here, we’ll take a look at red light cameras in more detail, investigating how they work, how to know if you’ve been caught out by one and how you can appeal to make sure traffic lights are the only thing turning red while you’re on the road.

What is a red light camera?

Also known as traffic light cameras, red light cameras are found at traffic lights on major junctions. Motion-activated devices designed to stop drivers from speeding through red lights (by way of fines, of course), they take a series of photos and videos which are sent to a specialised team to review. If a violation has taken place, then you’ll be punished financially and receive penalty points on your driving licence.

To act as a deterrent against speeding and dangerous driving, red light cameras are installed in high-risk areas – often after someone has been injured in an accident where a driver ran through a red light.

How do red light cameras work?

When a traffic light is on red, the red light camera jumps into action, activating itself so that it’s ready to photograph any cars passing over the white stop line. Some systems will wait a fraction of a second after the light turns red, affording drivers a slight grace period.

Likewise, the camera will not activate if a car is sitting over the system’s induction loops – it’s only when a driver moves over both loops at a certain speed in quick succession that the system will know that someone has run the red light at high speed.

traffic lights

What do red light cameras look like?

It’s worth noting that not every traffic light in the UK has a corresponding red light camera. Nevertheless, knowing what a red light camera looks like will help you spot them in the future. And since they can vary in size and design, it’s worth getting to grips with their various appearances.

For the most part, they’ll be placed on tall silver or white metal poles, either slightly before or after the traffic light itself, which are easy to spot. They can also be mounted on street light poles. Wherever they are, they tend to be large, square silver, yellow or white boxes, though some are rectangular boxes that resemble security cameras.

How do I know if I’ve been caught by a red light camera?

Because there are different types of red light cameras used in the UK, it’s not always possible to know if you’ve been caught by one. Gatsometer cameras, for instance, create a noticeable flash when they take a photo, whereas newer models like the Trevulo-D speed camera (which are also used as red light cameras) use an infra-red flash which isn’t visible to the naked eye.

Whichever camera you’re caught by, you’ll know about it in the form of a Notice of Intended Prosecution (NIP), which you’ll receive within 14 days once the evidence has been reviewed.

So, what happens after that? The NIP will ask the registered owner to name the offending driver, who’ll be required to complete each section of the form and return it within 28 days. The notice will, for the most part, ask for an admission of guilt and order the payment of a fixed penalty fine, rather than taking the case to court.

If you feel a mistake was made, then you’ll also have the right to appeal a penalty notice.

concerned woman looking at letter and talking on the phone

How do I appeal a red light camera fine?

Unfortunately, playing the “I didn’t mean to” card is unlikely to pass muster, especially since there’s photographic evidence that proves otherwise.

The only real defences available to you include proving you didn’t go through the red light or proving there was a defect with the light or any related signage. Even if you passed a red light to allow an emergency vehicle to pass, you probably won’t be let off.

So, in all likelihood, you’ll simply have to deal with the cost of your violation. Currently, the penalty for failing to stop for a red light is a £100 fine and three points on your licence, which will stay on record for four years.

Failing to sign or respond to a NIP, or failing to provide the details of the correct offending driver, meanwhile, could mean facing prosecution, six penalty points and a maximum fine of £1,000.

Whatever the cost of running a red light is, it really isn’t worth it, so you should never be tempted to try it – especially when the safety of you, other road users and pedestrians is at stake.

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