Red Light Camera 101: Know Your Enemy


It was 2003 when the very first red light cameras were installed in Illinois, right here in Chicago.

Since then, the City of Chicago has rapidly expanded it’s red light program to 157 intersections city wide and more on the way, according to Office of Emergency Management & Communications (OEMC) spokesperson Jennifer Martinez. The city, under it’s current contract with Redflex Traffic Systems, has the potential to have 220 red light camera intersections by 2012.

In addition to Chicago, many suburban towns have jumped onto the red light camera bandwagon over the past few years, making red light camera technology a pervasive threat to driver’s wallets

Because of this omnipresent nature of this technology, drivers these days need to be at least minimally aware of how these cameras work in order to avoid a bright red $100 ticket in the mail.

Over the course of the next few weeks, this site will inform and educate you on all aspects of avoiding red light camera tickets, including investigating license plate sprays, license plate covers and GPS warning systems.

Drive more carefully

The most effective way to avoid this type of ticket is to simply not blow through a red light.

The easiest and best way to do this is be more careful at intersections. Slow down to a stop on the yellow instead of hitting the gas to try beating the light. Driver slower and more carefully.

To some lead footed drivers, changing an aggressive driving mindset can be difficult. For some of us impatient and time challenged individuals, this change in driving attitude may take time. It’s worth it not only for the potential cost savings, but more importantly for the obvious safety issues.

While everyone knows red light cameras are about revenue, it’s hard to dispute the secondary effect of improving safety at intersections by decreasing red light running.

Red light camera driving tips

While driving more safely is the most straight forward way to not get ticketed, here are a few more suggestions to further insure you never receive those $100 red light camera tickets.

First, know where the red light intersections are located. Watch out for them in the towns, areas and neighborhoods you drive. Memorize them. Make note of them.

It has not been updated since April, but here’s the city’s most up to date listing of only 141 red light camera locations.

There are other online red light camera databases and maps that list red light cameras in both Chicago and the suburbs. While most try their best to stay up to date, it’s hard to have full faith in their accuracy.

Second, learn to watch out for the “Photo-Enforced” signs and for the cameras themselves in neighborhoods or towns you’re not familiar with. These are like early warning beacons. Look out for these signs and then modify your behavior accordingly when approaching these intersections.


Third, assume ALL intersections have red light cameras. That way, you will always drive more carefully and be more watchful at traffic lights.

The rules of the red light camera

Finally, you need to know about how the cameras work so you interact with them correctly. In other words, “know your enemy.”

The other day, I spent time learning the details of red light cameras with Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) spokesperson Brian Steele.

These days, OEMC handles our red light camera program. But back in 2003, CDOT spokesperson Brian Steele, was on the original team that piloted the city’s original red light camera program. So, Mr. Steele knows quite a bit about how these cameras work.

Steele explained that red light cameras are not running continuously. They are triggered by an under pavement sensor, located at the white stop bar markings, before the entrance of the intersection. This sensor only becomes active when the traffic light turns red. NOT yellow, but full on red.


So, if you are already within the intersection when the light changes from yellow to red, you are safe–no ticket.

The red light camera will not trigger if your vehicle is already within the intersection when the light turns red.

This is true even if just your front wheels are past the white stop bar on the pavement. You are still safe, as you are technically within the intersection, and can proceed to clear the intersection without being ticketed.

As example, if you’re in the intersection making a left hand turn and the light turns red, simply complete your turn and clear the intersection without fear of getting a ticket.

The under pavement sensor will only activate AFTER the light turns red.

This means, make sure you get your vehicle into the intersection while the light is either green or still yellow. Even if it’s just the very front of the car. If you’re front wheels are over the white pavement stop line, you’re in the intersection and therefore should not be ticketed.

Your other option on the yellow light is to stop at the entrance to the intersection BEFORE the light turns red.

“There is no gray area here,” according to Steele. “When you cross the stop bar (on the pavement) after the light turns red, the camera is triggered.”

Three seconds…only three seconds?

It’s important that you realize that the yellow light on all Chicago traffic lights have only a 3 second duration. Seriously, according to both Steele at CDOT and OEMC, it’s only 3 seconds. This is not a long time. Think about that and drive accordingly.

In fact, based on federal guidelines, the three second amber light interval is the extreme minimum time a municipality can designate.

Most suburbs surrounding Chicago have longer amber light intervals, so it’s easy for suburban motorists or visitors from out of town, to get caught blowing a Chicago red light because they are so used to longer yellow lights.

Right on red

Steele also warned to be careful when making a right turn on red. He says many people get red light tickets and think the tickets are erroneous because they didn’t actually go through the intersection, but took a right on red. But according to Steele, many people roll through the right turn, failing to actually stop first before turning right on the red. “As you know, Illinois law requires you to make a complete stop before turning right on red,” emphasized Steele.

So make sure you come to a complete stop before proceeding right on red, or expect a red light camera ticket in the mail.

I fought the law…but the law won, 98% of the time

Based on the details of the system and understanding how the red light cameras work, it’s not surprising that very few people ever beat a red light camera ticket. In most cases, when you get that letter with the bright red heading, you are guilty.

Fighting these tickets is next to impossible. The video and photographic evidence is nearly impeachable. In addition, the success rate at red light camera hearings is not quite 2%. As opposed to 50-70% for regular parking tickets.

“Over the two years I was involved with the program, I only saw 4-5 errors during that time,” says Steele. “And it wasn’t a system malfunction but human error.”

That’s 4-5 errors out of tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of tickets that were issued. That’s pretty amazing.

Part of this success rate is because every instance that a red light camera is triggered, a human being reviews the incident and will only issue a ticket, when, according to Steele, “there is incontrovertible proof that a vehicle has gone through the intersection on a red light.”

We will get into details on how to contest red light camera citations and the few and only defenses that work in beating red light camera tickets in the future.

Avoiding Red Light Camera Tickets Part 2: Do license plate sprays protect you from red light camera tickets?

33 Responses to Red Light Camera 101: Know Your Enemy

  1. BXK says:

    That right on red thing really bugs me. Is it really that unsafe? And what constitutes a “complete stop”? 0mph? 1mph? 0mph for 3 seconds?

    These are my biggest problems with this type of stuff. Sure it enforces the letter of the law, and technically, rolling at 0.25mph through a right on red is “breaking the law” but is that really the intent of the law? I highly doubt a police officer would stop me. I highly doubt many accidents result from this.

    It also bugs me that all evidence points that the biggest safety improvement is from extending yellows, yet this filthy sets them at 3 seconds for every intersection. Which is RIDICULOUS. 3 seconds at North and Halsted and 3 seconds at Irving Park and Cicero? That is a HUGE intersection, much wider streets. The yellows should be longer.

    It also wouldn’t surprise me if the city cheats on some of these. Maybe 2.8 seconds, etc.

    Safety is great, but, as with meters, when its all about money, collecting the most possible, getting people on technicalities like not a full, complete stop on right on red or with 3 second yellows, it bugs me to no end. Increase the yellow times, leave the cameras to catch those truly creating dangerous situations, ignore the right on red tickets, and then maybe you’ll have my support.

  2. The Parking Ticket Geek says:

    100% agreement from me.

  3. Mike says:

    I got a ticket back when they first came out and I have been super paranoid ever since. That paranoia caused me to jam on the brakes at a yellow, which is short, and get rear ended. The guy behind me had insurance and everything was taken care of. My advice, drive the speed limit and try to sail through on green. And if you’re super close and it turns yellow, then just go. I’ve gone through some yellows and no tickets, at least yet. Please drive safely. I still wonder if they’re going to put count down timers in. That would be nice. Sorry for long post!

  4. MichaelM says:

    BXK, I think the come to a complete stop is important because I have seen lots of idiots out there roll to a stop and not really pay attention to pedestrian traffic coming there way. At least by coming to a complete stop, it almost levels the playing field.

    So to paraphrase, if we could get every person who drives a vehicle to look both ways for pedestrians when stopping before continuing, I’d agree with you about the full stop, but since we can’t, I don’t.

  5. Chad says:

    @Mike – have you considered litigation against the city for creating an unsafe intersection? You would have proceeded at the yellow light and not been rear ended had their been no camera. It seems these types of rear end collisions are just waiting for a civil forfeiture from the city.

  6. Mike says:

    Re: Chad

    I totally thought about it but it is the responsiblity of the driver behind to maintain a safe distrance that would allow a full stop. So the city would look the other way and point the blams at the motorist who hits the person in front of them. Most cities that use these things know that rear end accidents will increase. However, they say rear end accidents cause less injury then the t-bone accidents they try to prevent. Remember, it’s about money NOT YOUR SAFETY!

  7. Anonymous says:

    I thought of putting a retroreflector by the aft plate so that when the strobe light goes off, the camera gets a picture of a supernova instead of the plate. A batch of white bicycle reflectors will probably have the same desired effect. Note that it is illegal to paint the plate to reduce its retroreflectiveness.

    And it is a sure thing that those infernal cameras are a money maker. I live right across the street from one. At night the strobe light goes off a LOT. When it goes off, it flashes 3 times in rapid fire. When it first became active, I thought it was lightning like a thunderstorm, but it was silent and no rain. While there is cloud to cloud lightning, the camera made itself obvious.

    Note that if you try the retroreflector tactic, it will only work at night, not the day. The strobe disengages itself during the day because there is enough light to get that picture.

  8. Steve says:

    After reading your story in the sun-times on July 26th,2009 Sunday morning, I am curious to run this by you.About a yr ago,I was in the vicinity of 31st & Western Ave where I noticed a Red-Light Camera, now understand I know the Illinois vehicle code being a former Police Officer for 23yrs.Ill State Law says that a person is allowed to make a turn on red as long as you come to a complete stop & there are no signs posted stating NO TURN ON RED,or if there are pedestrians or on coming traffic. well I obeyed all those rules and made my turn on red and low and behold I received a letter stating that I went through a red light and I owe $90.00, now it also states that you can dispute this notice by presenting any and all evidence to show that you are not in violation of this notice.So I returned to that intersection the following day with a camera and I took pictures of that intersection from every possible angle and also light poles etc., and sent those pictures in showing them that there are no signs posted anywhere and that vehicles therefore showed be allowed to TURN ON RED. Alot good that did, they still said I was Guilty,then I disputed that decision and still was found Guilty after explaining and resubmitting those pictures,Finally I was told by these people if I did’nt like their decision that I should go to the Daily Center and sue the city, I ended up paying $180.00 in a fine that I should of never got for abidding by the law,as far as I am concerned its another way of bilking money out of pedestrians driving in the city.I know if I had gone to court with this situation, I would of won my case but that is where the city gets you, they figure it cost you money to sue the city and the time vested in that cost money so your just better off paying the fine “EVEN IF YOUR IN THE RIGHT”, I hope I get some type of reply from you on my story,it would be greatly appreciated, Thankyou.

  9. ChiTownGovtIsCorrupt says:

    There’s one red light camera intersection near where I live that I usually go through to get anywhere I go to with any regularity. My solution? There’s a gas station on the corner. I have to make a right, so I go through the gas station instead and don’t give them any opportunity to ticket me. It’s just another money making scheme the city has put into place all in the name of keeping us safe…which is a big fat lie.

  10. TrafficCalmer says:

    I remember when the right on red went into effect. There was a lot of resistance relating to pedestrians, and the result was the “full stop” rule.

    This rule is not “just another money making scheme” ChiTown, it’s state-wide and they could not have passed the right on red law without it.

    And driving through the pedestians in a gas station lot is nothing to brag about.

  11. Greg says:

    Steve -

    I have won almost all of my parking ticket hearings (and I have had dozens) but I go to the in person hearings. I never mail the contested tickets in. I bet if you had gone in person you would have had a better chance of winning, because you can take more time, explain in much more detail, specifically point things out in photos, and if you realise you forgot something or feel the hearing officer isn’t fully understanding what you are saying you can try to re-explain it.

  12. tara says:

    okay so i went through a red light enforced intersection for the first time tonite not knowimg you couldnt take a right on red. even though i made a complete stop am i still going to get a fine and how much

  13. The Parking Ticket Geek says:


    In most cases, the fine will be $100.

  14. Maria says:

    after arriving and making a complete stop i noticed a sign that said you could make a right turn at a red light after making a complete sign. Once i was done reading i looked around no people were crossing or near so i made a right. now i have a ticket for $100. i went back to the main street and the sign is definitely there. you can even see the red lights (stop) on my car from making the stop on the violation they sent me.

  15. Maria says:

    Should i contest by mail? I don’t really want to use my vacation time for that. but do i have a better chance of winning if i do show up in person? I wonder if a copy of their violation (showing i made a stop) and a photo of the sign will do if I send it by mail.

  16. Claudia says:

    I recently paid a$100 fine for right turn on red violation at Harlem and Cermak. Question: How do I proceed in the following situation? Two lanes are going straight–the turning lane veers off to the right to make right turn on red; I understand that when the light is red I must stop behind wide white line. If however, after stopping, I cross line to move up to roadway and stop again in order to check oncoming traffic and make right turn will I not trigger the red light camera and incur another fine? What’s the rule?

  17. The Parking Ticket Geek says:


    As long as you make a complete stop at or just past the stop line, you can proceed and make your right turn on red.

    Make sure it’s a COMPLETE stop. I would wait an extra second just to be safe. As long as you do that, even if you are erroneously issued a ticket, the video will prove you stopped. Make sense?

  18. Jan says:

    I went to a Highland Park hearing to try to get out of my ticket. Hopeless; while the administrative law judge opened the session with how a lower standard applies that a criminal hearing, he also said that it is a “business” ticket and is not reported to motor vehicle. This is double speak all the way. His introductory comments were what a “reasonable person” would do, but ultimately it is decided on the smallish sign that is hardly visible on the stop light (smaller than what is allowed in WI, at least) that says no turn on red. What a gotcha game, put up a sign that says you can’t turn where there is one of two red light cameras that have generated, from my research on-line $1.3 million from the time that Highland Park had the cameras (that were not operational always, the article notes, per construction) from around 2011 and the article probably was published in late 2012. I don’t think the publication was 2013. Then the mayor has the nerve to state to the media that the red light cameras were put up for safety reasons, when clearly the statistics for accidents at the site was very low considering how many cars drive through the intersection, and any impact of the cameras was statistically insignificant since truly they would have to compare actual accidents to traffic flow, which I don’t think was done. How strange that the sign and the camera are in the same place, for $$$$$$$$$$ to the tune of 1.3 million, which is denied by the mayor. According to research online, most tickets are for turning right on a red — ENTRAPMENT to the max. I didn’t notice any other no turn on red signs anywhere else when I went to the hearing. Another person, who should have had influence, had a ticket for running a red because the light turned red while she was in the intersection. According to the postings here that should not have resulted in a ticket, but the administrative law judge said that according to code — whose code was never stated, IL or Highland Park, that there were only three reasons that someone could get out of a red light ticket. It is all technology, but it is people that write these contracts, make these decisions, and program the timing of the lights and camera, and are able to stay in office of not. It is a scam!!!! Does the administrative law judge think if he did exercise discretion that he would lose his job, or get a law suit against him, when his actions lead one to think that “a reasonable person” who was at the location at 5:55 AM on a Sunday morning, had waited at the red light and finally turned left because it seemed that the red light probably was motion activated and doubted when the light would turn based on motion activation, and turned after 19 plus seconds! Who is being unreasonable! At the same time he denied someone who was in the intersection when it turned red. What do they think $100 is, a contribution? It is interesting that Highland Park called it a business expense…maybe there was a different word that expense, but it is not a fine. Another play on words. Vote these deceptive people out of office. They have placed bids for other quotes due mid November 2013, to see if they are “getting the best deal.” There should be no deal; it is deception to the max. How about a class action law suit anyone??? The have backed out probably two fees at the listing of hearings online. The rigidity and bad faith is remarkable; this is not how government is supposed to govern.

  19. Jan says:

    I have never before written on this site before, and there is nothing on this site about Highland Park and the hearing I attended yesterday.

    How can this site send a message that I have “already said that” and that it will not be considered or published, and is a duplicate???? Get your facts right, please!

  20. Drew says:

    Jan…sometimes this thing called the Internet causes a post to attempt to register twice and this Blog site will register it as an attempt to duplicate your post..

    Thus the Message of “already said that.”

    Take a sip of your Chardonnay…and since it is an Administrative Hearing and not a Court Summons….

    If you don’t live in Highland Park…and you haven’t written the Check yet..

    Don’t Pay it.

    There are only a few reasons to pay a RLC ticket in this county…

    1. You live here and Might get Booted if you get more than 3 tickets into Final Determination status.

    2. You work for a Municipal Agency in the City you got the Ticket in (Municipal Policy is that no employee can be in-debited to the City/County they work for)

    3. You are 100% certain you F*cked Up and are Liable for the Ticket.

    They do not issue a bench warrant for Failure to Pay.
    They do not issue Points against your license.
    They don’t affect your Insurance Rate.
    Unless you have more than 5 to 10 tickets outstanding, they don’t contact the Sec State to petition your license be suspended until payment is made.
    If you are not a Illinois Resident (basing this off your Wisconsin point) they can’t go after your Home States Tax Refund.
    Worst case is it Doubles…they send it to Collections and you get harassing phone calls from Arnold Scott Davis in which you tell them to Sod Off and put yourself on the Do Not Call List.

  21. jason says:

    I came to a red light at a slow speed I didn’t realize it was photo enforced. I didn’t see any flash but all 4 of my wheels were passed the white line. The line was way before the light/intersection. Should I be worried?

  22. The Parking Ticket Geek says:


    It sounds like the flash was triggered by another vehicle. You’re just going to have to wait and see if you get a surprise in the mail.

  23. Cass says:

    I got a red light violation ticket while turning right on the Mannheim Rd and Roosevelt Rd crossing issued by Village of Hillside. The reason stated is not coming to a complete stop.
    This was at a light where the sign said “Right turn on red, must yeild to U turn”
    In my defense, it was 3 AM in the morning on a cold December night. I did slow down to almost 1 mph.
    There was ice on the road so stopping and starting was anyways difficult.
    There were no pedestrians crossing.
    There was no traffic coming in my direction. The video records that up to 5 secs after i turned.
    As I understand the rules should meet an objective and that is safety. When looking at a situation in its entirety, there was no need to come to a complete stop. However, there seems to be little thought given to that.
    My question to this forum is, if I contest this ticket, what more can I put in my defense and would taking the effort be worth while?

  24. The Parking Ticket Geek says:


    Look, I’m with you. There’s virtually NO safety issue when someone does what you did. I’ve done it plenty of times (not at RLC locations). Research studies show that crashes occur during some turning right on red almost NEVER.

    That being said, if you didn’t come to a complete stop, you have no chance here.

    1 mph is 1 mph too fast when it comes to red light cameras. You’re right on principle, but the red light camera wins under the law. Sorry.

  25. Pete says:

    Very true, but appeal it anyway. If the sign said “yield to U turn” argue that there was no U turn or oncoming traffic therefore your requirements to “yield” were met. Yielding means giving right of way to oncoming traffic. Yielding does not require a full stop if no oncoming traffic is present.

    This should be your argument. You may not win, but at least you’ll get to delay the time your payment will be due.

    Yet again, this demonstrates that red light cameras have nothing to do with safety and everything to do with revenue.

  26. Greg says:

    Ah…the village of Hillside. If you contest it, be ready to be there for a LONG time and to witness a condescending, arrogant hearing officer named Sere who may even make a snide comment out loud in front of the whole courtroom.

    Not to discourage you, but you probably don’t have a chance in hell with that ass running the proceedings.

    Geek knows my story…

  27. Highland Park says:

    Well, I was in Highland Park facing west on Park Ave West with the sun in my eyes. Cars on Route 41 heading north and south were making left hand turns, so I made my right hand turn. It made sense to me that if they were turning left, I could turn right safely. But I got nailed with a ticket.
    So now I read that they issued 570 tickets for this right on red in Sept 2013. At $100 each ticket, the city made $57,000 that month and paid $9000 (a monthly fee) to the company who put up the cameras. About twenty cars a day got tickets that month, so doesn’t it seem that something is wrong with signage at that intersection??

  28. The Parking Ticket Geek says:

    Highland Park,

    Once in a while, signage around red light cameras can be lacking or confusing.

    Fight the ticket based on the poor signage if it’s actually not correct.

    Send us photos if you can.

  29. Liz says:

    I moved to the city from the burbs two years ago. Within 3 weeks I had three $100 tickets. I don’t believe for one minute they are about safety. All of them were about 11 pm. without any additional traffic. One of them it was safer to continue rather than slam on the breaks given the road conditions. I now avoid large intersections with these lights in bad weather. Another was the 3 second yellow that was new to me. I now slam on the breaks on the yellow and risk being rear-ended. The third was a right on red without a sign that I couldn’t. AND YES I STOPPED.

    I just got a ticket in Lakemoor, again at 11pm without other traffic, for right on red. They said I didn’t stop for LONG enough. I will now treat all intersections with any cameras as if I cannot turn right on red. Is about making money. I don’t have enough money as it is. These tickets at $100 each, especially for a legal right turn, are excessively expensive.

  30. Anna Santo Domingo says:

    Ok help please. I received a ticket for turning right on red. I made a complete stop. There is NO “no turn on red” sign. I assumed bc the light is a five light (red yellow green PLUS green arrow and yellow arrow) rather than three(red yellow green) that maybe that means no turn on red is implied. Not sure if that is the case and if it is my problem is this…. I turn right here everyday and the green turn arrow is never used. Only the solid green light. I want to contest in person. Advise? Some law I don’t know about? Seems like a shady way to take money I see someone almost everyday make complete stops and turn…..

  31. The Parking Ticket Geek says:

    Anna Santo Domingo,

    If you made a complete stop, that’s the best defense you can have.

    But, review the video online and make sure you did come to a complete stop. I know you think you did. But I’ve seen lots of RLC videos where people who were confident they stopped actually rolled through the light without stopping.

    Contest the ticket in person and if you did stop, the ticket should be dismissed.

  32. Leo says:


    Your “141 red light camera locations.” link is out-of-dae or bad.
    Here is the current link:

    Then click he traffic options.


  33. Ken Adams says:


    The dip-shit behind the wheel that chooses his / her self interest over the well being of other deserves a ticket. Quit crying that cities / state are just in it for money. I’m fine with them making money off of people that excercise such poor judgement. If you want to truly beat red light cameras then DON’T BLOW RED LIGHTS. You will never have to give the gov’t a penny for them.

    If people didn’t spend as much time trying to beat the system maybe they would have enough time to make a full stop.

    To those that don’t get red light tickets because that obey the laws, thank you! The rest of you can piss off.

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