Many of the visitors to this blog continue to read my 2008 post about red light camera tickets. I looked back at it myself today and saw that it is somewhat outdated, in part because of changes in legal and administrative procedures. So, I decided to update it.
I remain 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. Nevertheless, it remains true that, generally speaking, California courts uphold the use of these red light cameras, even though no law enforcement officer saw the violation.
However, in some California jurisdictions, such as Los Angeles and Riverside Counties, red light camera tickets have fallen into disfavor, in part because they are an administrative headache for the courts, in part because in some communities they have resulted in a net loss in revenue, and in part because they simply do not accomplish the desired goal of reducing accidents.
For a great website addressing red light camera ticket issues, see:
Among the common red light camera ticket problems addressed there are:
What to do if you weren’t the driver when the car supposedly ran the red light? Do you have to identify the driver? Generally speaking, no, you do not.
What to do if duration of the “yellow” light seems too short? There are minimum limits below which the duration of the yellow light may not go. If it is not long enough, the ticket is not valid.
What if the “ticket” comes by email? Or you are told it is “delinquent” or “in collection”? These are almost certainly tricks to get you to pay a fine that otherwise cannot be imposed.
Can you use reflective spray on your license plate to defeat red light cameras? No, you can’t, at least not legally. You can be cited for a separate violation for doing so. California Vehicle Code section 5201, which you can see here:
Is running a yellow light a violation? No. If any part of your vehicle has crossed the limit line when the light turns red, it is not a violation.
HighwayRobbery.Net also contains suggestions about how to fight red light camera tickets.
This site also contains suggestions for fighting such tickets:
Neither addresses every possible legal or factual defense that might conceivably apply, but anyone who is thinking about fighting such a ticket would do well to check out their suggestions.
Fighting a Red Light Camera Ticket
If you do want to fight such a ticket, the first thing you should do is to read the code section itself:
Make sure you understand what it says and exactly what is or is not prohibited by this law. Once you have decided to fight the ticket, you can do so by appearing in court or by submitting to a Trial by Declaration.
Trial by Declaration
Using this procedure, you can submit your side of the case to the court by written declaration.
The California Judicial Council forms for a Trial by Declaration are located at:
The first two of these forms 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. Even if the judge still finds you guilty (which, frankly, is quite likely, except in very unusual circumstances), mitigating factors may convince the court to impose a lesser fine than would normally be assessed.
If you decide to fight the ticket in court, in most California counties you will have to go to the clerk’s office to request a trial date (in some courts, this can be done by telephone or by mail — check with the court clerk where your ticket is pending to find out what the correct procedure is for that court).
Review the two websites linked above for suggestions on how to proceed in court. The best single piece of advice anyone can give is to BE PREPARED — have with you any photos, documents or other evidence that you want to use. If you tell the judge that some piece of evidence exists, but you “didn’t bring it with” you to court, the judge will not give it any weight. Request discovery of what evidence might be used against you (see item #3 on the “How to Beat a Red Light Ticket in California” website). Review the court decisions, transcripts and briefs on the HighwayRobberty.Net website page here:
Some of them may be helpful to your case. Have a checklist of the things you want to tell the judge and make sure that you cover each one when making your presentation to the court.
On Line Traffic School
If you do not want to fight the ticket, 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 clerk’s office of the court where your ticket is pending will give you a list of approved in person and online traffic schools.
Failing to Appear (“Just Ignoring It”)
In some counties (such as Los Angeles), failing to appear or otherwise respond to a red light camera ticket will not result in the issuance of a failure to appear warrant. However, even in such counties, the failure to appear will remain in the court records and if you ever have to go for some other reason, is likely to be found and you will have to deal with it.
In other counties, 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. Furthermore, a failure to appear warrant could be discovered by your insurance company. This would probably result in an increase in premiums or even outright cancellation of your auto insurance.
Results of a Conviction (in Trial, by Pleading Guilty or by just Paying the Fine)
Conviction of a red light violation will result in a fine (these vary from county to county) and one point on your DMV record. Points violations can result in suspension or revocation of your driver’s license and will almost certainly cause an increase in your insurance premiums. To be clear, if you decide to “just pay the fine”, that constitutes a conviction of the offense and a point on your driving record.