Can You Get Out of a Red Light Camera Ticket?
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In our recent post on how to avoid running red lights, we left out one major factor affecting intersections in 24 states and Washington, DC - the red light camera.
Getting a ticket from an automated camera is frustrating. You see that telltale flash go off when you squeak through the intersection at the end of the light cycle, and then you have to spend at least a few days dreading having a ticket actually show up in your mailbox.
Once it does, you may think you’re stuck with it. But before you pay up, read through this post - you may have more options than you think!
Make Sure it’s a Real Ticket
Take a good look at the document you received in the mail, and carefully read what it’s asking you to do.
Anti-photo enforcement website HighwayRobbery.net has reported that fake tickets, also known as “snitch” tickets, are used by many California cities, as well as some locations in Arizona and possibly in other states. If you’ve got a fake ticket, it may instruct you not to contact the court, or be missing court contact information entirely. In California, snitch tickets are now required to say “Courtesy Notice: This Is Not A Ticket” at the top of the page.
According to HighwayRobbery.net, these fake tickets are sent out when the red light camera photos weren’t clear enough to issue a real ticket. You aren’t actually required to respond to them, but the red light camera company and the police department are hoping you will. Once you admit you were the driver, or name the person who was, a real ticket would be issued.
Failing to respond to a real ticket on time has serious consequences, which may include additional fines and license suspension. Real tickets should list the name of the court, and include a date by which you’re required to respond. In California, the court system requires a real ticket to look like this. You can also confirm it’s real by locating it in your court’s case lookup system, but keep in mind that if you can’t find it, it may still be a real ticket that just hasn’t been filed with the court yet.
Once you’ve made sure it’s a real ticket, follow the instructions for how to respond, and make sure to do it by the due date or appearance date indicated on the ticket.
Typically, you’ll see options to pay the fine, fight the ticket, or name the actual driver if it wasn’t you behind the wheel, but exactly how each of these options works is different in each state, so keep reading!
“Owner Responsibility” States
Many states treat red light camera tickets sort of like parking violations. Responsibility is automatically pinned on the registered owner of the vehicle, and you have to pay a fine, but no points will appear on your license.
Be aware that the possible penalties may change if you fail to respond or if you contest the ticket, so make sure you clearly understand all of your options before proceeding.
If you weren’t the one driving your car, you may also be able to submit an affidavit describing the circumstances and naming the actual driver.
Arizona and California - “Driver Responsibility” States
Notable exceptions are Arizona and California, where tickets issued by red light cameras have the same penalties as tickets issued by an officer - fines and points on your driving record.
What if someone else was driving my car?
Since the driver is responsible for the violation, the photos have to clearly identify not just the vehicle, but the driver as well. If it’s not you in the pictures, the easiest thing to do is fill out the form included with your citation providing the name and contact information of the actual driver. This will cause the ticket to be re-issued in the driver’s name, mailed to them directly, and you’ll be done with it.
If that doesn’t sound so good to you, HighwayRobbery.net has reported that some California vehicle owners have been able to get their tickets dismissed at the police station or in court without identifying the real driver. This will likely require more effort and preparation on your part, and it may be beneficial to consult a lawyer for advice or representation before proceeding.
Can I take traffic school or defensive driving school?
Yes, if you received a red light camera ticket in Arizona or California, you may have the option to take traffic school. The procedure and eligibility requirements are different for each state, so make sure to check out our Arizona and California FAQ pages before you enroll.
Fighting a Ticket
If you don’t think the ticket was justified, you can consider contesting, or “fighting” the ticket. The following questions may help you start thinking about whether this is the right option for you:
- Is it clearly you in the photo?
- Was the yellow light long enough to meet your state’s minimum requirements?
- Were any signs required by your state posted, and were they large enough?
- Was your ticket delivered to you within the time frame allowed by your state’s laws?
- Is your ticket missing any information required by your state?
You may want to contact a lawyer to help you decide how to proceed.
Always make sure you understand what the penalties may be if you lose your case. For example, if you contest a ticket you received in California, it’s up to the judge whether to offer you the option of taking traffic school.
Special Case: Los Angeles County, California
The Los Angeles County Superior Court decided several years ago to stop notifying the DMV when drivers fail to respond to red light camera tickets. The court’s reasoning is that since drivers don’t sign camera tickets like they would if they received it from an officer, it can’t be proven that they actually received the ticket and promised to appear.
While the City of Los Angeles deactivated its red light cameras in 2011 and formally stopped collecting fines for unpaid tickets in 2012, red light camera programs in other cities within the county are still issuing tickets.
According to the LA Weekly, this weird legal situation has made it possible to ignore tickets that were issued by a Los Angeles County law enforcement agency for a location within the county, as long as you never contact the court acknowledging that you received the ticket. That includes discussing the ticket with a court clerk, whether over the phone or in person, and even includes looking up your ticket online. If you’ve done any of these things, you’re out of luck - you’ve acknowledged your ticket, and the court will report it to the DMV if you fail to respond.
But is ignoring the ticket even worth the trouble? The LA Weekly reports that you’ll definitely receive a lot of “scary mail,” including notices from the court and eventually letters from a collection agency. And it’s not yet clear what the consequences will be down the line - for example, if you end up having to appear in court for any other reason, the judge will be able to see your unpaid ticket.
If you don’t want to worry about deliberately ignoring the ticket, taking traffic school is an easy way to put that ticket behind you without having points appear on your record.
Looking For More Information?
If red light camera systems are sounding a little shady to you, you’re not alone - since we thought so too, we kept looking! Check back for our next post answering even more of your red light camera questions, including where in the country you need to watch out for cameras, and why some cities are getting rid of their camera systems.