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Why do the city red light cameras flash even when no car is in the intersection?

Shelby Sebens

Vehicles travel past a red light camera along Wooster St. at 3rd Street.

David Clemen feels a twinge of anxiety when he approaches some of Wilmington’s traffic lights.

He knows the camera is watching.

“I find myself having some trepidation coming up to lights,” he said.

Clemen fears a red light ticket. He hasn’t gotten that notice in the mail saying he owes $50 for running a red light at one of the 13 camera monitored lights in the city. But that flash is always lurking.

The city finished installing new video technology on the last camera that detects when drivers don’t stop before turning right on a red light in November. That update process took about a year, city traffic engineer Don Bennett said.

And drivers like Clemen are noticing a flash even when a car is not running the red light.

“It will just go off randomly,” he said, adding it’s annoying and confusing.

Bennett said the flash is the machine rebooting itself, not the camera taking a picture.

“It’s trying to figure out if everything’s working,” he said.

If the camera does capture a photo during a green light, it’s thrown out, Bennett said.

Though the cameras take shots of cars moving through the intersection, the footage goes through four levels of human review before a ticket is issued, Bennett said, adding he is the last to double check for a violation.

“There’s a misconception that the machine just sits on the side of the road and spits out tickets. That is not the case,” he said.

Clemen said he’s anxious when approaching intersections, especially if he’s unsure when the light will change.

And on Market he doesn’t have faith fellow drivers behind him will slow down.

“Everyone seems to think it’s a race track,” he added.

The city issued 16,469 citations in 2010 for red light violations, according to city data. Some of the lights had the new video technology while some were still being installed when the information was gathered, Bennett said.

Red light camera locations in Wilmington, followed by the enforced approach (the direction the camera faces):

  • 17th Street at Dawson Street, northbound 17th.
  • Dawson Street at Third Street, eastbound Dawson.
  • Wooster Street at Third Street, southbound Third.
  • Wooster Street at 17th Street, westbound Wooster.
  • College Road at 17th Street, northbound College.
  • 23rd Street at Market Street, westbound Market.
  • Dawson Street at 16th, eastbound Dawson.
  • Wrightsville Avenue at Colonial Drive, westbound Wrightsville.
  • Market Street at Kerr Avenue, westbound Market.
  • 16th Street at Wooster Street, southbound 16th.
  • Market Street at New Centre Drive, eastbound Market.
  • Carolina Beach Road at Southern Boulevard, northbound Carolina Beach Road.
  • Market Street at 17th Street, westbound Market.
  • Source: City Traffic Engineer

    User-contributed question by:
    Nancy Gulliver

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    3 Responses to “ Why do the city red light cameras flash even when no car is in the intersection?”

    1. On March 29, 2011 at 4:30 pm Jim Ware wrote:

      A reader recently asked if red light cameras had been been removed from intersections at Third and Dawson streets and Third and Wooster streets. Reporter Shelby Sebens asked Wilmington city traffic engineer Donald Bennett and this is his response:

      “No, both locations were recently upgraded with new equipment by the new vendor the City uses for these services. The camera at Third and Dawson was relocated farther away from the intersection. The newer technology has higher resolution cameras that facilitate the longer focal distances and improves the camera angle. Third at
      Wooster was upgraded and the camera relocated based on analysis of the
      crash patterns at the intersection. The camera now monitors SB Third
      Street which was found to be at fault in a majority of angle type
      crashes reported at this location.”

    2. On April 6, 2011 at 8:41 am Scott wrote:

      I have noticed the cameras flashing when no one was running the light as well. I’m glad to know that it is a normal part of rebooting. I feel safer with the cameras in use. I notice people in Wilmington running lights all the time. I feel that the use of the cameras must have cut down on that….

    3. On June 4, 2011 at 10:01 am NEPender wrote:

      These cameras are known to have various “quirks” and such.

      But I will mention this, ambulances and fire trucks that are responding to emergencies and proceed through the red lights are getting tickets issued to them without any apparent “human review”.

      What would happen when a funeral procession was proceeding against a red signal with a police escort and the police officer and patrol vehicle are not visible int he video or photo snapped from the camera?

      Automated enforcement has no place on the roadways. Get the cops out of the cars and actually do something instead of lurking in the shadows being sneaky and lazy.

      I hope the statewide ban on these “red light cameras” is passed soon. And no I haven’t gotten one of these “tickets” yet. I rarely go to Wilmington these days because of the “taxes” and the cost of things. I prefer Jacksonville.

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