Red Light Photo Enforcement Program

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Since 2004, the City of Vista’s red-light cameras have contributed to making city streets safer. The City believes red light cameras are only appropriate at specific intersections with high rates of red light running. Before red light cameras were installed, City Engineering staff underwent an extensive effort to identify major signalized intersections with high traffic volumes and substantial red light running rates. The five intersections listed below were selected for red light camera enforcement through this process. Total collisions resulting from red-light violations have decreased 57% at photo-enforced intersections since the inception of the program. 

Enforced Intersections

  1. Civic Center Drive at S. Santa Fe Avenue
  2. Emerald Drive at W. Vista Way
  3. S. Melrose Drive at Hacienda Drive
  4. Vista Village Drive at N. Santa Fe Avenue
  5. Sycamore Avenue at Shadowridge Drive 

How Do Red Light Cameras Work?

Watch the “How Red Light Cameras Work” video. Click Here to View Video.
Photo enforcement of intersections with traffic signals is an automated technology which law enforcement agencies can use to detect and record dangerous driving behaviors, such as red-light running.   

  • Incident Detection: A camera system monitors approaching traffic. The system is only triggered to capture data of a vehicle – including a close-up image of the license plate, date and time of incident and lane number – if a potential violation is detected.

  • Evidence Collection: All data is transmitted and encrypted to a secure central processing center and digitally signed, preventing interception and manipulation of the evidence, while ensuring the highest level of protection to the chain of custody.

  • Evidence Review: Following a comprehensive review process, law enforcement agencies are provided with secure evidence packages containing potential violations. A local officer reviews and approves the evidence to determine if a violation is warranted. Drivers found in violation receive a citation in the mail.   

All City of Vista photo enforcement systems are compliant with local, state and federal laws. 

What Are the Benefits of Photo Enforcement?

  • Automated enforcement cameras can save lives.
  • Crash Prevention: Photo enforcement programs help prevent crashes, thereby reducing possible death, personal injury, property damage, traffic delays, and Police, Fire and EMT resources.     
  • Automatic Detection: Photo enforcement cameras are fully automated. No action is required by an officer at the scene to trigger or activate the system.
  • All incidents pass a four-point inspection process prior to being determined to be a valid violation of the law.
  • Police Force Multiplier: Photo enforcement programs serve as “police force multipliers” enabling local officers to refocus their energies on high-priority tasks, while still ensuring the safety and security of problematic intersections.
  • 24/7 Deterrent: The presence of photo enforcement causes drivers to think twice before initiating any risky maneuvers. The camera systems serve as deterrents to breaking the law, 24/7. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What is red light running? 
A violation occurs when a motorist enters an intersection after the signal light has turned red. Motorists who have crossed the white stop line prior to a signal entering the red phase (e.g., waiting to turn left) are not considered red light runners. 

Is red light running really a problem? 
Red light running is one of the major causes of collisions, deaths and injuries at signalized intersections. According to a 2011 U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) report, it is estimated that 20 percent of drivers do not obey intersection signals. Crashes caused by red light running result in more than 800 fatalities and 165,000 injuries each year, according to the NHTSA. The economic impact of red light running on society is estimated to be $14 billion annually. Other motorists and pedestrians account for nearly half the deaths caused by red light running crashes. 

What are red light cameras and how do they work? 
Red light cameras help communities enforce traffic laws by automatically photographing vehicles whose drivers run red lights. A red light camera system is connected to sensors that monitor traffic flow at the crosswalk or stop line. The system continuously monitors the traffic signal 24/7, and the camera itself is triggered by any vehicle entering the intersection above a pre-established minimum speed and following a specified time after the signal has turned red. A second photograph shows the red light violator in the intersection. Cameras record the date, time of day, time elapsed since the beginning of the red signal and vehicle speed. Tickets are sent by mail to owners of the violating vehicles after a review by a Sheriff’s Department Community Service Officer of the photographic evidence. You can view your photos and video online at by entering the required information from the summons. The Citation Number is a nine digit alpha-numeric entry composed of the prefix followed by the Ticket Number. The city code is VST. If you do not have access to a computer, you may use computers in the public library. 

Is not conventional law enforcement sufficient? 
Red light cameras are designed to identify traffic law violators without depending on the presence of sheriff’s deputies, who can be better used patrolling streets, essentially providing twenty four hour law enforcement as it relates to red light running violators.  

I have heard extending yellow signal timing can be sufficient to prevent red light running. 
The City of Vista has always had yellow light intervals that meet the State standards. This ensures that an intersection gains any benefit that yellow timing intervals provide to reduce red light running. However, long yellow timing intervals alone are not sufficient to substantially reduce red light running and decrease high accident rates. Therefore, when intersections are carefully evaluated, red light camera enforcement systems may still be appropriate at busy intersections.

Is photo enforcement just a thinly-veiled attempt by the government to generate revenue? 
Photo enforcement deters aggressive and dangerous driving behavior and studies have shown significant safety benefits of automated traffic enforcement. Photo enforcement programs are completely violator funded and do not cost law-abiding residents anything. It is important to note; however, that revenues do not necessarily equal profits. Photo enforcement systems are a costly endeavor, including the cost of the equipment, installation, operation, maintenance, and program oversight. It is also important to note the City’s vendor administering the program is paid the same fixed amount each month, and therefore, is independent of the number of citations issued for the month.

How does the City respond to critics who say the photo enforcement cameras violate motorists’ rights to privacy and are another example of “Big Brother” invading the public's right to privacy?
Signs indicating that red light running cameras are in use are clearly posted in advance of the intersection to ensure motorists are aware of the cameras. A violation is mailed out and includes a link to view the video tape and photo of the incident along with detailed data. Cameras have become a part of our everyday existence. When shopping, using an ATM, or filling up your car, you’re on camera. When you choose to travel on public streets, you have a responsibility to operate a vehicle in a safe manner and abide by all traffic laws. The technology is simply another legal tool available to the City to ensure drivers are driving in a safe and responsible manner for themselves and those utilizing public streets and sidewalks. 

What do I do if I get red light ticket? 
If you received a red light ticket in the mail that means the system captured a video and photos of your vehicle entering an intersection on a red light. Before a ticket is mailed out, a Sheriff’s Department Community Service Officer reviews the footage to ensure a violation did in fact occur. Those receiving a ticket have an opportunity to go online at to review the alleged infraction in order to make a decision if they have violated the law. Additionally, those issued a ticket have an opportunity to contest their ticket in municipal court, just as they can with a traditional traffic ticket. 

How much does a red light running ticket cost?
The State established the cost of a red light camera ticket at approximately $490. The majority of the fee goes to the State and to the County court system. The City of Vista receives $158 from a fully paid citation. 

Who do I contact if I have a question about my ticket?
The public should contact the Sheriff’s Department Community Service Officer at 760.414.3364.