Red light cameras gradually became a part of our urban landscape. They spread over cities and counties and in some cases, cover the whole State. And more cameras naturally bring more tickets. Knowing how red light cameras work and what the best strategies are in beating that type of tickets in court are arguably part of the literacy of any modern motorist nowadays. This article will give you the basic knowledge of red light cameras modus operandi and walk you through defense strategies to beat a ticket if you got one.
How Red Light Cameras Work
Sensor, camera and photo flash-light get installed in the intersection and are synchronized with traffic light equipment. A ticket gets issued when a car enters the intersection after the traffic light turns red.
The definition for the word “after” depends on your state/city jurisdiction and in many places it is one third of a second.
With that said entering the intersection at the same moment of time when the light turns red should NOT result in red light citation. The same is even more true for the yellow (amber) light case – by law you have to have no issues with crossing the intersection entry bar on the yellow light or being in the middle of intersection when the light is yellow.
How Red Light Violations Get Captured
Two photo shots get done – one when the car crosses the intersection entry bar during the red light phase and a second one – when the car is on the middle of intersection. The moment for the second photo shot gets defined by a short delay time set up in the red light equipment (usually 0.5 – 1.2 seconds) which usually depends on the speed limit posted for that location. The second photo proves that the car didn’t accidentally cross the intersection white entry bar and then completely stopped but continued driving during the red light phase. Date, time, violation number, time interval between two photos and the car speed must be clearly shown on the second photo. Both photos must also show that the intersection light was clearly red at the time of violation.
Do You Need To Identify a Driver?
The short answer is – “No, you don’t”. The tickets are issued against the cars violating the red light rule not against the drivers. This is the reason why all red light citations carry only the financial penalties but not the driver’s demerit points.
Why Red Light Cameras?
The original idea behind right light cameras was to enforce the traffic law and safety on the roads. However everybody probably knows the real reason behind that – municipalities need money and traffic tickets are the easy way to generate some steady cash stream. Numerous researches conducted by impartial 3rd party organizations show that contrary to original expectations, installing red light cameras doesn’t result in overall traffic safety increase. For example, researchers discovered, that some decrease in injuries caused by right-angle-accidents from cars running on red gets well compensated by noticeably increased number of rear-hit collisions caused by cars suddenly stopped on intersection trying to avoid possible red light citation.
So, it happened – you have got a ticket in the mail and you want to know what to do next. Below are the main strategies you can apply to get your ticket dismissed.
1. The Ticket Which Was Sent to You is a Snitch
There are numerous cases in some jurisdictions when local police sends phishing (snitch) tickets to registered car owners expecting them to pay blindly. According to internet resources “data from Oakland shows that in 2009 Snitch Tickets were 42% of what they sent out”. So if you got one – don’t pay blindly and make sure that is not a scam. Check your “citation” – if it doesn’t contain the name of the court, its address, phone number and open hours it is likely a fake. If your “citation” contains request to pay a fine directly to sender when saying “don’t contact the court” – it is for sure a fake. If your “citation” contains the phrase: “Courtesy Notice: It is Not a Ticket” – ignore it, it is a scam.
2. The Ticket Was Sent To the Wrong Address/Person
Some tickets are sent by mistake – they were meant for another person but were mailed to you. Check the addressee’s name, address and other details in the ticket to make sure that it is not a mistake. Also check if you have been crossing that intersection on that day and time or if you are not the only driver of your car in your household – ask family members if it could be them.
3. It Wasn’t Me
Some local traffic courts or police stations might exercise pressure trying to force you to reveal who was driving a car during a red light violation. You don’t have to answer – it is not required by law. If they insist too much making you uncomfortable or they try to intimidate you in any form – tell them that you want to exercise your constitutional right to remain silent. Never forget – you are innocent until proven guilty in the court of law. It is a responsibility of court after all to prove their allegations.
4. Vehicle Was Stolen
If you vehicle was stolen by someone, even for only two-three hours of fan drive – you are not liable. If you can prove it in court – your ticket will be dismissed.
5. My License Plate Was Stolen
If you vehicle’s plate was lost or stolen and someone used it during the traffic violation – you are not liable. Applying this defense strategy would require an examination of citation photos to make sure that the car on the photo isn’t yours.
6. Intersection Doesn’t Have “Photo Enforced” Warning Sign
Most jurisdictions require posting special “Photo Enforced” warning signs 300 feet before the intersections equipped by red light cameras. If that sign was missing in your case your ticket might be dismissed – the final decision remains on the discretion of judge.
7. Red Light Camera Periodic Certification Requirement
The red light camera equipment is a subject of strict regulations (similar to radars) and must be periodically tested and calibrated to comply the municipal law. Many cameras fail to meet this requirement. Request the last calibration report. If the calibration was overdue – your ticket is safely dismissed.
8. Yellow Light Timing Is Too Short
There are well documented requirements for the minimum duration of yellow (amber) light between green and red phases in the intersection. Too short duration of yellow light understandably leads to a premature start of the red light phase and as a result – to unfair citation of cars caught off guard in the middle of intersection. “Who is interested in shortening the yellow light phase after all” you might ask. Companies that sell and install camera equipment often get solid share of ticket generated revenue (in some jurisdictions up to 50%) and is the most interested party in these violations. Request a test of the yellow light duration; if it was altered – your ticket is dismissed.
9. Road and Weather Conditions
Severe weather and road conditions could be an acceptable excuse for running on a red light. The ice, snow or excessive amounts of rain on the road could make compliance to traffic law more dangerous than excusable conditional violation. The same applies to the tailgating scenarios when you are forced to keep driving on a red light because car behind you is dangerously close, is speeding or tailgating creating a hazard to cars and pedestrians around. In these cases running on red light understandably promotes public safety rather than violating it.
10. Citation Doesn’t Have Supporting Photos at All
In the name of privacy some municipalities send out a red light camera ticket without the actual photo. Make sure that they have all photos required by law – go to the courthouse or municipal building and request your red light camera photos. If they cannot present them – your ticket is dismissed.
11. Photos In Citation Do Exist But Are Not Admissible To Court
In many cases the red light camera ticket photo(s) do exist but are not admissible to court.
- One of the two mandatory photos is missing
- 2nd photo exists but does not show your vehicle on the middle of intersection
- The lighting conditions are very poor and the photo is illegible
- License plate is missing on photo or is unreadable
- Traffic signal malfunction (traffic signal was broken when red light camera flashed)
- Red light sensor malfunction (it was a yellow light not red when first photo was taken)
- White stop bar was not painted on the road or was not clearly visible
- Out of State plates (with the exception of States which have mutual traffic citation agreement)
12. If Nothing Above Worked Out
You might be able dismiss your ticket by attending traffic school if you are eligible. The eligibility requirements vary from State to State. In California, for example, you can do it only once every 18 months; in Florida – once every 2 years.