Automated Traffic Safety Cameras
This page provides information about the use of automated traffic safety cameras (red light cameras and speed cameras) for local governments in Washington State, including statutory requirements, court decisions, examples, and recommended resources.
RCW 46.63.170 authorizes cities and counties in Washington State to use automated traffic safety cameras in limited situations. These cameras may be used to detect stoplight violations (red light cameras), railroad crossing violations, and (in limited contexts) speed violations. The legislature has also periodically authorized additional pilot projects in specific jurisdictions.
Camera placement is restricted to certain areas including multi-arterial intersections, railroad crossings, school speed zones and school walk areas, public park speed zones, hospital speed zones, and certain priority road safety locations. However, all of these camera placement requirements are very detailed and will require careful review and analysis.
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. For certain speed zone cameras, cities must remit 50% of the noninterest proceeds (after administrative costs) to the state.
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.
Photographs, electronic images, or any other personally identifying data from automated traffic safety cameras are for the exclusive use of law enforcement and are prohibited from release to the public under RCW 46.63.170(1)(g). For information on the retention of automated traffic safety camera footage, see our page Retention Requirements for Law Enforcement Records.
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 safety cameras. Just because a jurisdiction has authorized the use of automated safety cameras in certain situations (red lights, school zones, or railroad crossings) does not mean it is currently using cameras in all of those situations.
- Bellevue Municipal Code Ch. 11.49 – Red lights and school zones
- Federal Way Municipal Code Sec. 8.05.090 – Red lights and school zones
- Issaquah Municipal Code Ch. 10.42 – Red lights and school zones
- Lake Forest Park Municipal Code Ch. 10.06 – Red lights and school zones
- Lakewood Municipal Code Sec. 10.04.040 – Red lights, railroad crossings, and school zones
- Lynnwood Municipal Code Ch. 11.18 – Red lights, railroad crossings, and school zones
- Moses Lake Municipal Code Ch. 10.48 – Red lights, railroad crossings, and school zones
- Pierce County Code Ch. 10.42 – Red lights only
- Spokane Municipal Code Ch. 16A.64 – Red lights and school zones. Includes sunset date; city has been using 5-year reauthorizations.
- Tukwila Ordinance No. 2612 (2019) – School zones only; includes analysis of proposed intersections, implementation timeline, FAQs, and information materials distributed to school district staff, students, and parents
- Wenatchee Municipal Code Ch. 8.06 – Red lights and school zones
- Fife Safety Camera Enforcement – Includes reasons for installation, annual reports, FAQs, and information on how revenues will be spent
- Issaquah Camera/Photo Enforcement – Annual report and information on how to respond to a citation
- Lake Forest Park Photo Enforcement Program – FAQs and annual reports
- Kent Photo Enforcement Program
- Moses Lake Redflex Camera Tickets – Includes FAQs and annual report
- Renton Photo Enforcement FAQs
- Spokane Photo-Red & Photo-Speed Traffic Safety Programs – Includes FAQs, annual reports, and videos
- Wenatchee Automated Traffic Safety Program – FAQs and annual report
Requests for Proposals
Below are some useful resources that provide additional information about automated traffic cameras.
- U.S. Federal Highway Administration: Signalized Intersection Safety – Includes data and information regarding red-light running and cameras
- Insurance Institute for Highway Safety: Red Light Running – Information about red light cameras, including how to maintain public support
- National Conference of State Legislatures: Automated Enforcement Overview – Information about traffic safety trends and state legislation
- Texas Transportation Institute: Speed Cameras: An Effectiveness and a Policy Review, by David K. Willis (2006) – Concludes that speeding enhances crash risk and severity and that speed cameras reduce both speeding and crash severity. Implementation issues, however, are highly problematic, and a poorly implemented automated speed enforcement program can easily undermine public support.