Policy of Enforcement: Red Light Cameras and Racial Profiling

The use of red light cameras has focused on traffic safety issues with well established results. In this paper we explore the potential public policy benefits of red light cameras as tools to assess information relating to racial profiling. Specifically, we explore the question of whether or not some of the often conflicting rhetoric about racial profiling and gaps in the literature concerning the prevalence of racial profiling can be cleared up using red light camera observations to measure racial disparities in traffic violations. Using data from cameras at intersections matched to census data, we find that although citations from the red light cameras are issued to a disproportionate number of minorities based on the racial composition of the population surrounding the location of the infraction, the racial composition of the violators is consistent with the racial composition of the block group in which they reside. This confirms those studies of racial profiling that show the fallacy of measuring racial disparities of persons stopped, cited, or arrested for traffic violations based on location of the violation. Instead, we propose that racial profiling in traffic stops is not occurring if the distribution of violators cited by a red light camera is consistent with the distribution of violators cited by law enforcement officers. Using the red light camera violation information and census data, this study finds no evidence of differential behavior in red-light running based on race and evidence of a decrease in red-light running behavior for low-income groups. Our study indicates that red light cameras may have a present and future role in assisting public policy makers on issues of racial profiling thresholds.


  • English

Media Info

  • Media Type: CD-ROM
  • Features: Figures; References; Tables;
  • Pagination: 13p
  • Monograph Title: TRB 86th Annual Meeting Compendium of Papers CD-ROM

Subject/Index Terms

Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 01044808
  • Record Type: Publication
  • Report/Paper Numbers: 07-2279
  • Files: BTRIS, TRIS, TRB
  • Created Date: Feb 8 2007 6:58PM