Photo radar is an addition to the traditional radar devices used by law enforcement to capture motorists who exceed the speed limit. This method was first developed in the 1980s and combines the radar method with a camera that photographs and captures a vehicle’s license plate when the violation takes place. The technology can also print onto the photograph the date, time, and speed recorded. Sometimes, they can even capture the driver in the image.
Photo radar devices can be used manually by law enforcement agents or mounted on lights at busy intersections and function autonomously. This technology is also often used to capture other traffic offenses, such as running a stop sign or ignoring a stoplight.
Photo radar is a low-power radar system that does not require police officers to sit on the side of the road and monitor traffic to capture offenders. In fact, with this method, the motorist is never pulled over and written a ticket. The registered owner of the vehicle receives a speeding ticket in the mail, as well as the photograph taken of the violation.
However, the device’s detection range is considered to be low, with less than 500 feet of capability. Nevertheless, this technology is catching on and gradually being introduced in more and more areas.
In Europe and the United Kingdom, photo radar is performed by the GATSO system. GATSO works in a way similar to photo radar systems in the US. The device is unmanned and takes a photo of the rear of a speeding vehicle. The system is often installed on traffic lights in medium to large sized cities.
With GATSO, however, the majority of cameras do not actually photograph passing vehicles. Roughly one out of every ten devices is “live” and records violations. The “inactive” devices serve as a deterrent by appearing to take photographs of passing vehicles by flashing a light at them. A fully live device transmits K band signals and is able to monitor the speed of every passing vehicle.