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Automated Traffic Enforcement Cameras

This page provides information about the use of automated traffic safety cameras (red light cameras and speed cameras) in Washington State, including statutory requirements, court decisions, examples, and recommended resources.


Overview

RCW 46.63.170 authorizes cities and counties in Washington State to use automated traffic safety cameras in limited situations. The cameras may only be used to detect stoplight violations (red light cameras), railroad crossing violations, and/or school zone speed violations.

The cameras may only be placed in the following locations:

  • Intersections of two arterials with traffic control signals that have yellow change interval durations in accordance with RCW 47.36.022, whose intervals may not be reduced after placement of the camera;
  • Railroad crossings; and
  • School speed zones.

(The legislature has also periodically authorized additional, and very limited, pilot projects in specific jurisdictions.)

The cameras may only take pictures of the vehicle and the vehicle’s license plate and only while the infraction is occurring; the photos must not reveal the face of the driver or passengers, and cities and counties must consider installing the cameras in a manner that minimizes the impact of the camera flash on drivers.

Automated traffic infractions are processed in the same manner as parking infractions. The statute lays out additional procedural requirements, including signage, public records considerations, and notices of infractions.

The compensation paid to the camera vendor or manufacturer must be based on the value of the equipment and services provided or rendered in support of the system and may not be based on the fines, penalties, or revenues, generated by the equipment.


Analysis and Reporting Requirements

The local legislative body must prepare an analysis of the locations where the automated cameras are proposed prior to enacting the initial ordinance. Once the initial cameras are installed, the jurisdiction must conduct an additional analysis before adding any new cameras or relocating existing cameras.

All camera locations must be clearly marked at least 30 days before the camera is activated. Some jurisdictions have also imposed temporary grace periods after the cameras are activated to educate drivers without ticketing them.

Cities and counties using automated cameras must post an annual report on their websites showing:

  • The number of traffic accidents that occurred at each camera location;
  • The number of notices of infraction issued for each camera; and
  • Any other relevant information that the city or county deems appropriate.

Records Management and Retention

For information on the retention of automated traffic safety camera footage, see our page Retention Requirements for Law Enforcement Records.


Court Decisions

Below are selected court decisions pertaining to automated traffic safety cameras, and specifically whether or not the use or authorization of such cameras is subject to initiative or referendum.

  • City of Longview v. Wallin, 174 Wn. App. 763 (4/30/2013) – Longview adopted an ordinance providing for the placement of automated traffic safety cameras. An initiative was filed to reverse the action. Ultimately the initiative process was stopped after the Supreme Court concluded in Mukilteo Citizens for Simple Government v. City of Mukilteo, 174 Wn.2d 41 (2012) that the decision to provide for such cameras was not subject to initiative. Wallin appealed, arguing a variety of issues, including challenges to the city's standing, ripeness, Freedom of Speech, etc. The court, on appeal, denied Wallin's efforts, affirming the lower court's decision.
  • Eyman v. McGehee, 173 Wn. App. 684 (2/19/2013) – After the City of Redmond provided for automatic traffic safety cameras, an initiative was filed with the city clerk seeking an initiative on such cameras. Since the supreme court had determined that initiatives on such issues was beyond the scope of the initiative power, the city clerk did not file the initiative petitions with the county auditor. The initiative proponents sued, seeking to require the clerk to transmit the petitions to the county. The court denied issuance of a writ of mandamus and the initiative proponents appealed. On appeal, the court affirmed. A city clerk has a mandatory duty under the statutes governing the filing of initiative petitions to transmit such petitions to the county auditor for determination of sufficiency. But, a court may review the substance of an initiative petition to determine whether it is valid. Such a determination is "exclusively a judicial function." Despite a city clerk's mandatory duty, however, a court may decline to grant a writ of mandamus if it determines that ordering compliance is a useless act because an initiative is invalid.
  • Mukilteo Citizens for Simple Gov't v. City of Mukilteo, 174 Wn.2d 41 (03/08/2012) – Because the legislature expressly granted authority to the governing body of the city of Mukilteo to enact ordinances on the use of automated traffic safety cameras, the subject matter of Proposition 1 is not within the initiative power
  • American Traffic Solutions v. City of Bellingham, 163 Wn. App 427 (09/06/2011) – Initiative No. 2011-01 exceeds the lawful scope of local initiative power; it is not a valid ballot measure

Examples of Local Traffic Safety Camera Programs

Below are a few selected examples of local government automated traffic safety camera programs in Washington State, including code provisions, reports, FAQs, informational materials, and RFPs.

This is not intended to be a complete list of all jurisdictions that use automated traffic enforcement cameras. Just because a jurisdiction has authorized the use of automated enforcement cameras in certain situations (red lights, school zones, or railroad crossings) does not mean it is currently using cameras in all of those situations.

Ordinances/Code Provisions

Websites/Annual Reports

Requests for Proposals


Recommended Resources

Below are some useful resources that provide additional information about automated traffic cameras.


Last Modified: September 24, 2019