Action! County's red light camera system goes live

cover-redlight-mailman-aThe red lights on Rio Road Westbound will not be monitored by cameras.

As recently reported, while weather and utility work delayed the installation of red-light cameras at the intersection of Rio Road and 29 North, Albemarle County's high-tech attempt to curb red-light running will finally commence on Friday, November 12. There will be a 30-day grace period, during which violations will only be observed, but after that County police will start mailing out $50 tickets based on photographic and video evidence the cameras capture.

However, there's one important detail (mentioned previously on Coy Barefoot's radio program) that hasn't been widely reported: the cameras won't be monitoring the entire intersection. Say what?

According to a joint County/VDOT engineering safety analysis on the intersection, three cameras will monitor only two approaches: the through lanes of 29 Southbound and the two left-hand turn lanes, and the through lanes of Rio Road Eastbound and the left and right turned turn lanes.

"We are obviously hoping for a 'halo effect' that will impact driver behavior at all approaches to the intersection," says county spokesperson Lee Catlin.

According to County police Lt. Ernie Allen, the camera systems can only be installed at approaches that are studied and approved by VDOT, which based its decision on traffic volume, crash data, and violation rates at the intersection.

"We had no say in their location," says Officer Allen, who admits that he would have liked to have seen all the approaches monitored."But we're pleased to have another tool to prevent red-light running."

According to the analysis, there were no reported angle crashes caused by red-light running on Rio Road Eastbound between 2006 and 2009, while there were four reported angle crashes on Rio Road Westbound. In addition, traffic volume on Rio Road Westbound is nearly double that of the traffic volume on Rio Road Eastbound. So why not put cameras at what appears to be the more dangerous approach?

"If every angle crash is evidence of the danger of red-light running," says County transportation engineer Jack Kelsey, "then every red-light violation is a potential crash and also evidence of the danger."

As Kelsey points out, during a 12-hour video surveillance of the intersection last year, red-light running violations were observed most often at Rio Road Eastbound and 29 Southbound. And while there were no angle crashes at Rio Eastbound, there were 11 at 29 Southbound.

"As the volumes and rates of violations get larger and larger," says Kelsey, "it’s just a matter of time before the crash tally catches up. So based on the data we have selected the two most hazardous approaches."

According to the analysis, there were a total of 177 crashes at the intersection during the study period; however, only 22 of those were caused by red light running. There were 36 injuries associated with these crashes, none of them fatal. The most common kind of accident? Rear end crashes. At 121, they represent 68 percent of the total crashes over the three-year period.

Counterproductively, it would seem, installing the cameras could drive up the number of crashes at the intersection. As VDOT's own studies have observed, installing red light camera systems tend to increase the number of rear end crashes, as motorists brake erratically quickly to avoid getting a ticket. Indeed, as the County analysis states, the camera systems "may not help to reduce the majority of the crashes at this particular intersection."

Confused yet? Again, as Kelsey explains, it's all about trying to prevent the more deadly angle crashes. While rear end crashes might increase, and the recorded number of angle crashes hasn't been alarming, the number of violations observed was cause for concern.

"Each violation represents a potential hazard to all users of this intersection, including cyclists and pedestrians," says Kelsey, who emphasises that the goal of using the cameras is to reduce the number of violations.

Of course, each violation also represents $50 paid to the camera company, Australia-based Redflex, and to the County's general fund, which helps to support the police department and other services. As previously reported, the County paid nothing up front for the camera systems. Under the deal, any ticket revenue up to $10,000 a month will go to Redflex, while any revenue generated beyond that goes to the County.

While County officials tout the deal as a savings to taxpayers, critics argue that it side-steps the ban on camera companies getting compensated based on the number of citations handed out, as the risk-free arrangement gives the County a financial incentive to make sure Reflex gets its $10,000 every month.

While County officials are characterizing this as a traffic safety measure, the deal would have any red-blooded American businessperson licking their chops. During that 12-hour period last year (from 6am to 6pm), 152 red-light running violations were observed at the chosen approaches. At $50 a violation, that's over $200,000 a month, or $2.7 million a year. Even if half those violations are deterred by the presence of the cameras, that's still over $100,000 a month.

Surprisingly, Officer Allen predicts that the number of violations, based on observations of the 23 camera systems in Virginia Beach, could actually spike during the first several months of the program, before leveling out as motorists get used to the cameras.

Of course, actually getting those $50 checks could be another story.

In Arizona, the state's network of Redflex-operated speed cameras came down recently because those ticketed simply began tossing them out. According to Arizona code, motorists were under no obligation to pay the tickets unless they were personally served. It's a situation that has cost Redflex $6.7 million in lost revenue this year, according to an April 2010 letter to shareholders, and has had the company petitioning the Arizona Supreme Court over the law.

Virginia code was amended to accompany the new red light camera legislation, but it's not that easy to get around the right to be properly served; even according to the modified code, a driver ignoring the citation suffers no criminal penalty. What's more, the code appears to require the County to personally serve the citation if it wants to ensure collection.

As was mentioned in a 2005 VDOT study on the use of red light cameras, because Virginia code requires the delivery of an in-person summons to compel an individual to appear in court, unless red-light camera citations get hand-delivered, they could become "essentially unenforceable."

"Early next year we should have a pretty good idea of how the cameras are working," says Officer Allen.

Read more on: red light


One problem I see deals with the camera monitoring the eastbound traffic on Rio Road & 29. That light is SO short at times, that even the second car going through will see a yellow light. And if the first car hesitates at all, the 2nd/3rd/4th cars can see red before clearing the intersection. The timing of this light needs to be fixed before they crank up the money machine.

Looks like I'll be wearing a ski mask when I drive down Rio Rd. next time. Just because I own the car doesn't mean I was at the wheel when the red light was run.

Wonder if this means we will be held responsible for other people's actions if they are driving a car we own.

Scary stuff!

Dave -
cameras or not, 'right on red' has always meant right on red AFTER coming to a full stop and yielding to traffic that has the right of way.

Sorry, I meant to post 833....

§ 46.2-833. Traffic lights; penalty.

A. Signals by traffic lights shall be as follows:

Steady red indicates that moving traffic shall stop and remain stopped as long as the red signal is shown, except in the direction indicated by a lighted green arrow.

Green indicates the traffic shall move in the direction of the signal and remain in motion as long as the green signal is given, except that such traffic shall yield to other vehicles and pedestrians lawfully within the intersection.

Steady amber indicates that a change is about to be made in the direction of the moving of traffic. When the amber signal is shown, traffic which has not already entered the intersection, including the crosswalks, shall stop if it is not reasonably safe to continue, but traffic which has already entered the intersection shall continue to move until the intersection has been cleared. The amber signal is a warning that the steady red signal is imminent.

Flashing red indicates that traffic shall stop before entering an intersection.

Flashing amber indicates that traffic may proceed through the intersection or past such signal with reasonable care under the circumstances.

B. If the traffic lights controlling an intersection are out of service because of a power failure or other event that prevents the giving of signals by the traffic lights, the drivers of vehicles approaching such an intersection shall proceed as though such intersection were controlled by a stop sign on all approaches. The provisions of this subsection shall not apply to: intersections controlled by portable stop signs, intersections with law-enforcement officers or other authorized persons directing traffic, or intersections controlled by traffic lights displaying flashing red or flashing amber lights as provided in subsection A.

C. The driver of any motor vehicle may be detained or arrested for a violation of this section if the detaining law-enforcement officer is in uniform, displays his badge of authority, and (i) has observed the violation or (ii) has received a message by radio or other wireless telecommunication device from another law-enforcement officer who observed the violation. In the case of a person being detained or arrested based on a radio message, the message shall be sent immediately after the violation is observed, and the observing officer shall furnish the license number or other positive identification of the vehicle to the detaining officer.

Violation of any provision of this section shall constitute a traffic infraction punishable by a fine of no more than $350.

(Code 1950, § 46-203; 1952, c. 671; 1954, c. 381; 1958, c. 541, § 46.1-184; 1964, c. 613; 1966, c. 607; 1970, cc. 515, 736; 1972, cc. 4, 234, 454; 1974, c. 347; 1976, cc. 30, 31; 1977, c. 9; 1978, c. 300; 1981, c. 163; 1989, c. 727; 2000, c. 834; 2004, cc. 252, 743; 2006, c. 928.)

Mr Nueland....

§ 46.2-835. Right turn on steady red light after stopping.

Notwithstanding the provisions of § 46.2-833, except where signs are placed prohibiting turns on steady red, vehicular traffic facing a steady red signal, after coming to a full stop, may cautiously enter the intersection and make a right turn.

Such turning traffic shall yield the right-of-way to pedestrians lawfully within an adjacent crosswalk and to other traffic using the intersection.

(Code 1950, § 46-203; 1952, c. 671; 1954, c. 381; 1958, c. 541, § 46.1-184; 1964, c. 613; 1966, c. 607; 1970, cc. 515, 736; 1972, cc. 4, 234, 454; 1974, c. 347; 1976, cc. 30, 31; 1977, c. 9; 1978, c. 300; 1981, c. 163; 1989, c. 727.)


§ 46.2-833.1. Evasion of traffic control devices.

It shall be unlawful for the driver of any motor vehicle to drive off the roadway and onto or across any public or private property in order to evade any stop sign, yield sign, traffic light, or other traffic control device.

(1993, c. 117.)

Mr. Neuland,

You can find that information if you link to the previous stories we've done on this. Yes, "right turn on red" is still legal, but with the cameras now watching...motorist will have to come to a full stop before making the turn, otherwise they run the risk of getting a ticket. Remember, video footage is also reviewed, which is how they determine if someone did not come to a full stop before making a right turn on red.

Dave McNair

What about violations against freedom of movement and freedom to use common-sense and common courtesy? Given equality instead of priority, road-users would be able to approach sociably and filter more or less in turn. Jaywalking and red-light running are fabricated crimes spawned by a defective traffic control system. Want to see how things can work without lights? See Roads FiT for People. Martin Cassini, UK

Why not address the 40ish stoplights from Greene to UVA. Maybe turn all the lights green at rush hour to filter traffic in and out of town or build a by-pass.

So, funny they are targeting working people that live north of C-Ville. If the powers in Greene want to make it’s tax payers happy, do not honor Albemarle’s red light Tax. It’s a good thing Greene is growing, because I will avoid shopping on 29 North.

This article, for all it says, does not tell us whether "right turn on red" is allowed or not when turning right onto Route 29 Northbound from Rio Road. Is it or not?

Recipient, there are mandated standards and procedures to insure that cop shoppe radar is accurate at all times while in use. Just be happy that Virginia still uses radar. Some states now allow a cop to estimate or guess a car's speed. That's a pretty scary thought there if you think about it. Having been trained on the use of radar and operating radar in the State of Virginia, I can tell you right now I can't visually tell the difference between a car going 75 mph and 78 mph.

And once the tickets start rolling out, I suspect most of the violators will proportionately be from this immediate area. In other words, if 1,000 locals go through this intersection, maybe 30 will run a red light. If 1000 out of state cars go through this light, maybe only 5 will run a red light. The actual statistics will be interesting to see someday in the near future.

And more likely than not, a lot of the red light tickets will be going out to people who think the red light cameras are the best thing since radial tires.

Having an out of state plate doesn't stop them from finding you. The $40 Montgomery County, MD, fine I got for being caught by a speed-limit camera in Rockville last year found its way to my house just fine. So, implementation of the delivery system is no reason to object to this. But it does sound like focusing on red-light running may not be where the action is -- they should really focus on speeding. It's going so far above the limit that makes sudden stopping when the light changes a new hazard. If people kept it to 45, it would be easy to safely stop, and rear-enders would be both fewer and less damaging/dangerous. And just think how much more revenue the County could snatch up by ticketing speeders! As far as resorting to tech goes, that's no greater worry than what we already face, due process-wise or otherwise. Cops already use radar, which is not always calibrated correctly, to create their "evidence." And it's not like we have any kind of "right" to speed or run lights that we are unconstitutionally being deprived of when we get our summons (which we can fight, after all, rather than pay). The sneaky part is having the fine be so low that many will elect not to fight, given that it costs more to take time off from work that to pay the fine (at least before the next insurance premium arrives). Maybe the cameras can be set to photo ONLY out-of-state plates, just to make sure violators are unlikely to come back down to C'ville to fight, in order to reduce court costs, too.

Dem red light cams be killin ya boi!

This is wrong so many ways, if the problem needs to be fixed then we need to have patrol men working on it. We DON'T need machines sending us fines. Everyone should talk to the BOS member and tell them to remove the cameras now.

If you get a summons you can just ignore it and nothing will happen? What if I start changing my vehicles registrations to an outside of state llc- then they won't even be able to find me and I can avoid paying property tax. Will Virginia now reward those who become scofflaws?


The cameras will not be monitoring drivers, just license plates. If you get a ticket in the mail, it will include an affidavit that you can submit claiming that you were not driving the car at the time.

Dave McNair

It is imperative that everyone remember this one very important point. In Virginia, if you receive any form of ticket, or other legal document, from anyone or any agency that is not a badged, sworn and deputized arm of the Commonwealth of Virginia, the issue is not official. What does this mean to drivers? If you were to happen to get a ticket mailed to your home, DO NOT ACKNOWLEDGE IT IN ANY MANNER. Make no telephone calls, nor write a letter or e-mail. If you do not acknowledge or contest the ticket, but simplhy throw it away, Commonwealth of Virginia Law allows no recourse to the sender. This is a statute thats on the books here in Virginia. A legal expert was on the Schilling Show on WINA recently, and quoted the exact code. So, if you get a pretty picture in the mail, throw it away and ignor it. The state will not let anything else transpire.

They don't picture the occupants or interiors. No opportunity for Larry David escapades.

The government knows what is best for us.
The government knows what is best for us.
The government knows what is best for us.

All together now.

Ken Porter,

That shouldn't be a factor. The cameras are triggered only after a car passes over a sensor embedded in the road before the entrance to the intersection about a 1/2 second after the light turns red. If you're already in the intersection when the light turns red, you won't get a ticket.

Dave McNair

§ 46.2-833.1. Evasion of traffic control devices.

It shall be unlawful for the driver of any motor vehicle to drive off the roadway and onto or across any public or private property in order to evade any stop sign, yield sign, traffic light, or other traffic control device.

(1993, c. 117.)
Well there's no law that says you can't take another public road and not go through that section of 29. What are you going to do, put up a road block and ticket every driver who turns the corner onto a public road?

We still have the right to use any road we want in this country as long as it is open for cars to drive on it. You can't ask every driver his motive for turning a corner. Maybe he wants to stop at a fast food joint or whatever.

Besides, I bet all those retailers in those shopping centers are going to love it if the police start ticketing people for going into the parking lot.

And if they are driving on a public street that connects to 29, would they stop the driver? What would they do, ask people if they have any reason to be on that street (like they live or work near there) and ticket them if they say no?

Where I live, I avoid certain intersections because there's too much traffic there. If I decide to get over to the cross street by going through a parking lot on a corner shopping center, I do it. I am not avoiding the light or any traffic DEVICES, I am avoiding all those cars going every which way through a large intersection.

Some cities *encourage * people to stay off the main traffic filled road by connecting parking lots, and for some, even putting a small 2 lane road parallel to the main road which runs from parking lot to parking lot. Any city has the option of doing the same, encouraging people to stay in the lots and off 29. Fewer cars, fewer accidents.

If the police were to be so busy stopping drivers who turn into parking lots, chasing them through parking lots to see if they stop at a store (and what if they go in, change their mind, and leave? Ticket them for changing their mind??), and checking out motivation for drivers who turn onto side streets near there, they might as well wait at the intersection and catch red light runners themselves. It would cost less.

Bill, you appear to have a lot of time on your hands to contemplate traffic issues.

At this moment, yes, I have a rare bit of time to comment. I don't often get a few moments to myself. I spend most of my time caring for others. Thank you for noticing.

Since 29 is used by people headed from North Carolina to Maryland on 29,a lot of drivers who get tickets are going to be from out of state. Like me. But drivers are getting wise and buying GPS red light camera detectors like Whistler and Cobra and others make that are legal in all states. They warn in time to go around the offending intersection to make 100 percent sure, no risk no ticket, no rear end crash, no matter what.

Most who get the devices are extra cautious people who do not intend to go through lights but who may be locked into the intersection by other cars or caught with a bumper across the line before stopping.

I looked closely at your map and see there are easy ways around your red light camera intersection to guarantee that no matter what there will be no fine and no rear end crash for me on my rare trips through your city.

I do not speed, I do not run lights and I am a very cautious driver. I do not condone anyone breaking laws. I was married to a police officer and have high respect for all. I also need every dime of my income to pay my bills and refuse to risk it for any reason whatsoever.

As far as I can tell, there is no reason for anyone to go through that intersection if they don't want to.

If you want to make 100 percent sure they take the camera down as some of you have said, do not let them earn their $10,000.

Look at your map and if you know your city, or even if you don't, you will see what you can do to keep money in your pocket and protect yourself, your passengers, your children and your car from being hit from behind. Remember you can be the world's best driver but you cannot control the car behind you or how close it is to your back bumper at whatever speed you and s/he happen to be traveling.

Bill, I imported § 46.2-833.1 by mistake. I meant to import § 46.2-833.

833.1 doesn't apply in this conversation, my fault.

It is true, one can avoid these cameras. Let's say you are traveling south on rt. 29 and wish to make a left on Rio rd. Instead of using the left-turn lane at Rio and risking a ticket for ignoring the red light, you could take a right on Hilton Heights road and a left on Berkmar, behind the Walmart and PARALLEL to 29. Then make a left on Rio and OH SNAP! Another camera! they're everywhere!

Driver A, if you are traveling south on Route 29 and wish to make a left on Rio Road, cut through the shopping center there where Outback is. :)

I do it all the time anyway. It's much faster than sitting through the red light to enter the same shopping center, and then having to sit through the traffic light at Rio Road as well.

Is it legal to cut through a shopping center or business (like a gas station) to avoid a light?

Sure it is. It's against the law to zoom through a gas station, restaurant or other business at an intersection to avoid a red light. State Code section § 46.2-833.1 "Evasion of traffic control devices" wouldn't apply in the example of going though the shopping center I mentioned above because you're not really evading a traffic control device, you're simply choosing to go through a different traffic control device. You can take a faster or shorter route between Point A and Point B as long as you follow all traffic laws, § 46.2-833.1 does not outlaw this.

" Driver A, if you are traveling south on Route 29 and wish to make a left on Rio Road, cut through the shopping center there where Outback is. :)

And go right on Rio, up to Berkmar, go left, and enter 29 beyond the light.

What's with all the traffic lights in that area anyway? Doesn't the state have some kind of rule about sprinkling traffic lights every few hundred feet? That road's a bear to drive on safely in that section and the cameras will make it even more dangerous.

I think they need to do some engineering and make safety improvements to the roadway rather than treat the results.

In the past week and a half I have been caught in 5 trffic jams in Charlottesville. Each time but one I was attempting to leave Charlottesville for Greene county to the north. Why is traffic getting worse? Does anyone know?

"Confused yet?"
What's there to be confused about?
The cameras are there to provide a revenue stream. Nothing more. Watch what happens in thirty days when the city fathers shorten the yellow light time...

I will not be contributing to it (the revenue stream).
I'll also not be contributing to the Rt 29 business corridor; I'll be shopping elsewhere.

I am not a friend to a very energetic government. It is always oppressive.-Thomas Jefferson

I have a business that is cleverly located in a spot that allows drivers passing through my parking lot to avoid some traffic control devices. I am fixing to build a short (65 ft. long) bypass that will charge a small toll for use. It is better to pay a little than a lot and drivers will be supporting a local businessperson.

Don't run red lights. Problem solved. Or if you choose to run them, be a big boy and take the ticket.

On the subject of enforcement...Louisa County must have a revenue shortfall. I've gotten caught in 2 speed traps there this year.

I wish they all could be california girls-Ben Franklin

As my Ma said: "Yeah traffic in Charlottesville was probably not too bad in Jefferson's day..."

I'm so happy!! Maybe now people will adhere to the traffic signals. I was nearly hit by a driver on 29 who ran a red light.

i think the better idea, as the article states, it to simply ignore any mail-in citations you may get. sure, they can still serve you in person, but i'm sure it'll cost more than $50 a pop to send a sheriff to every violators house.

houston is smarter than us?

They banned them by popular vote...

Ok- the question is what will the enforcers (whoever they are) do when NO ONE pays the fine? Take them all to court? Take away your drivers license? Take away your birth certificate? Take away your citizenship (if you are a citizen)?


Not sure if "red light running" is the problem. I believe it may be enforcement of the laws.

Perhaps time spent at the subject intersection(s) would be a better place to enforce traffic laws rather than at Dunkin' Donuts.

I sense a "hanging chad" when they "go to the video tape".........