California Red Light Cameras, Trial by Declaration & On Line Traffic School

Answering a question posed by Rob in a comment on my About Me page:

Could you help a guy from Boston with a question about CA red light cameras?

I asked him to provide more information, to which he responded:

On our recent trip visiting an elderly cousin at Seal Beach I was driving a rental car south and needed to use a restroom late on a Sunday night, so I got off Int. 5, stopped at the off ramp intersection traffic light. I saw that the entire intersection was clear of traffic with a full view in all directions, then made the left turn into a restaurant. I really needed to get there.

Apparently the rental car co. got a notice about their car tripping a red light camera. They must have provided my drivers license, but gave an incorrect first name to some agency. I have no violations in nearly 40 years of driving. Now the State of CA with automated equipment and no verifying traffic officer can threaten my freedom with no process service.

I may never have seen the 1st-class mail with an incorrect name. What could happen if I just ignore the citation?

Thanks for any help or comment.

You have hit upon one of my particular pet peeves, here, Rob. I am an adamant opponent of the use of cameras to enforce the traffic (or any other) laws. Too much Big Brother for my Libertarian philosophy of what government should be.

Unfortunately, the use of these red light cameras has repeatedly been upheld by California courts (and the courts of many other states, as well). So, even though no officer saw the violation, it can result in a conviction.

Your particular situation presents two significant difficulties, the first of which is that under California law, you did commit a red light violation.

The second is that you are in Massachusetts, which makes it more difficult — but not impossible — to fight your ticket.

Trial by Declaration

California has a procedure called Trial by Declaration, which you might want to try. Using this procedure, you can submit your side of the case to the court by written declaration.

At the bottom of this post are links to the forms you need to submit a Trial by Declaration. The first two are the ones you will need to submit your request. The last two are for use if it becomes necessary to request a new trial after the first result is unsatisfactory.

Use of the trial by declaration, rather than simply paying the fine, will at least give you the chance to present mitigating factors to the court. Two are readily apparent — one, the “urgency” of the situation, which is certainly understandable; and two, that even though you did go through a red light, you created no danger because there were no other vehicles in the vicinity.

It is unlikely that either will convince the judge to find you not guilty (the urgency of your situation probably does not rise to the level of a “necessity” defense, which works only when breaking the law is necessary to prevent some greater harm). But, if may convince the court to impose a lesser fine than the standard $390.

On Line Traffic School

California also allows minor traffic offenses to be resolved by attending traffic school, which can now be done online. This requires payment of the full fine, plus the cost of the traffic school, so the expense will be greater, but has the advantage of resulting in dismissal of the ticket so that it does not appear on your driving record.

In the end, this could save you as much on insurance as the cost of the ticket and the traffic school combined.

The last link below is to an online traffic school which is accepted in California courts.

Failing to Appear (“Just Ignoring It”)

As for your specific question, if you do not follow any of the allowable procedures (pay the fine, do traffic school, file a request for Trial by Declaration or appear in court), a bench warrant will be issued for Failure to Appear (FTA). This will just make the situation worse, as that is a separate, misdemeanor criminal offense.

Interestingly, Massachusetts is one of only five states in the country that have not joined the Interstate Drivers License Compact, by which states exchange information such as FTA’s on traffic infractions. Therefore, if you never come back to California, you may never be served with the warrant or have any action taken against your driver’s license. On the other hand, if you do come back to California and are stopped again, you could be arrested on the spot and taken into custody.

Also, the fact that you have a FTA warrant in California could be discovered by your insurance company. This would probably result in an increase in premiums or even outright cancellation of your auto insurance.


All in all, I strongly urge you not to ignore the citation and suggest that you try the Trial by Declaration. It won’t result in anything worse than the bail being forfeited, so you have nothing to lose except the time it takes to prepare the paperwork. Or, do the online traffic school and keep the violation off your record entirely.

I hope this helps you decide what to do. Let me know how it works out.


The California red light laws are in Vehicle Code section 21453, which is at:

The California Judicial Council forms for a Trial by Declaration are located at:

An online traffic school accepted by California courts can be found at:

2 thoughts on “California Red Light Cameras, Trial by Declaration & On Line Traffic School

  1. It looks like the TBD link for Form tr205 is incorrect.
    The online traffic school says that the OC Court needs to grant special permission. Could you suggest how that might be granted?

    Thanks again,

  2. Rob,

    Thank you for pointing out the error in the forms. I have corrected it.

    I would start by calling the court clerk’s office of the appropriate court, explaining that you live in Massachusetts and asking how to obtain permission to attend the online traffic school. There are several different court locations in Orange County, so be sure to call the one marked on the citation. If you were in or near Seal Beach, it is probably the West Orange County Judicial District.

    If you cannot get the necessary information on the phone, make a copy of the citation and write to the appropriate traffic court. Send your letter, with the copy of the citation, by certified mail, return receipt requested.

    This is a rather routine matter for the traffic courts, though, so I imagine you will be able to get the information you need on the phone (though you may have to wade through one of those annoying automated menus before you can talk to a live person).

    Jim Reilly

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