Over the last few years, many Californian street intersections have been outfitted with red light cameras. Their purpose is to deter drivers from running red lights, with the hope that this will reduce the number of fatal accidents caused by drivers running red lights.
Red light cameras have sensors that cause the camera to snap a photo when drivers cross through intersections while the traffic light is red. The cameras photograph the offending driver and their license plate. Based on the registered address of the car, tickets are then mailed to culprits’ homes. If you don’t return a ticket in time, you may have your license suspended or be subject to even more fines. To avoid these negative consequences, take action by either paying the ticket or appearing in court before the deadline as listed on the ticket itself.
How to beat a red light camera ticket in California
First of all, make sure that it’s an actual red light camera ticket. There are also what are called “snitch tickets,” which are fake tickets that some California cities use that are sent out when photos taken by the red light cameras lack the clarity needed to justify sending the ticket. You don’t have to take action on these fake tickets, but law enforcement hopes you will acknowledge you were the driver so that they can send an actual ticket. Luckily, you’ll be able to tell if the ticket is real in California, because the snitch tickets must be headed with the statement “Courtesy Notice: This Is Not A Ticket.”
Red light cameras take photos needlessly at times. The cameras can be triggered by small mistakes, like turning right without stopping beforehand. They are also generally installed by private companies, they may be biased to give drivers more tickets, since they earn money from doing so. They have minimum quotas to hit, which also prompts them to give out tickets unfairly. All of these factors mean that it’s often worth fighting the ticket to save the hefty fines (often $100 to $400 or more, with fees included).
Here’s a basic overview of steps you can take to beat a red light camera ticket:
- Review the citation for the violation, checking the date and time and reviewing your schedule to make sure you were driving at that time. If you weren’t the one driving, you don’t need to pay the ticket. If you weren’t driving, submit an affidavit form and provide the name/address of whoever was driving instead.
- Ask for the photos/videos of the incident. They’re often available online, and in that case the citation will have instructions for viewing. This is part of building your case.
- Return to the intersection. Time the interval of the yellow light at the intersection where the incident occurred. If it’s below the time limit required by California law, this is another point in your favor. Additionally, check that there was a warning sign stating the presence of the red light camera within 200 feet or closer to the intersection; if there isn’t one, this is another defense.
- At arraignment, when you are scheduled to appear in court (as listed on the citation), enter a “not guilty” plea. You may also be able to do so online.
- At the trial, explain to the judge why the fine is unfair (using the evidence you have gathered using the steps above, as well as copies of laws you might be citing).
- If, after all this, the judge decides you’re guilty, you can make an appeal. You may speak with an attorney specializing in traffic law, file and serve a notice of appeal document, and present your oral argument to the appeals court judge. Finally, within 90 days of the oral argument, you will receive the judge’s final decision.
Red light camera tickets in Los Angeles County
There’s an odd situation surrounding red light camera tickets in LA county. In recent years, the county’s superior court made the decision to cease notifying the DMV when drivers didn’t respond to tickets from red light cameras. This is because, unlike the case of tickets given out directly by police officers, no one can officially prove that drivers received tickets. (This is called “acceptance of notice.”) For this reason, the city of LA itself had gotten rid of its red light cameras and stopped gathering fines for unpaid tickets by 2012. However, other cities within LA county continue to give out red light camera tickets.
So, according to the Hanford Sentinel, if you do nothing whatsoever in response to receiving the red light camera ticket in the mail, it can’t affect your driver’s license because the DMV doesn’t receive notification. But if you acknowledge the ticket at all—e.g. by asking the court for a continuance—this officially demonstrates that you have received the ticket, so your license may be in jeopardy and you’ll potentially be subject to “failure to appear” (FTA) fines.
This is a complicated situation, though, so if you have any doubts about how to proceed depending on where in LA county you live, it’s always a good idea to consult with a specialized attorney.