How Can I Know if My Car Was Caught by a Red Light Camera?

Many states are implementing high-tech deterrents known as red light cameras (also known as “Automated Enforcement Devices”) to keep drivers from shooting through yellow lights. Red light cameras trigger a camera  when a vehicle passes through an intersection. These complex systems are able to note a number of things about how incidents occur and are used in accident reports in an increasing number across the country. They also are able to take a still picture of a vehicle as it passes through an intersection when the color of the traffic light is red. The camera takes pictures of the vehicle’s front license plate and driver. A citation is then mailed to the vehicle’s registered owner, supposedly after a police officer checks the photo of the driver against the driver’s license photo of the registered owner.

The Driver Is Liable … Usually

In most states that use red light cameras, the driver, not the owner, is liable for the ticket. (New York treats red light camera violations like parking citations, making registered owners responsible without regard to who was driving when the camera snapped the photo.) In states where the driver—not necessarily the owner—is responsible for the ticket, and the owner was not driving at the time of the violation, the owner can fill out an affidavit, swearing that he or she wasn’t driving when the violations occurred.

Getting a Traffic Ticket Based on Red Light Cameras

In order for you to get a traffic ticket as a result of being caught on a red light camera, the picture taken must contain:

  • Picture evidence of the vehicle running the red light
  • The license plate of the vehicle in question
  • The date and time of the incident
  • The direction the vehicle is travelling and the intersection’s location
  • The speed of the vehicle as it runs through the red light
  • The length of time the light had been red before the vehicle ran the intersection

Red light cameras basically record every piece of information that a law enforcement officer would if her or she were to pull your car over for the same infraction. This is done so that the information is admissible in court, should the offender decide to argue the validity of the ticket. Most will argue that the license plate is not clearly displayed in the picture, however the cameras are placed in a manner that allows the license plate to be displayed prominently, and the cameras used are typically extremely high resolution.

If you Are Ticketed

If you are ticketed and feel that ticket is in error here’s what you should do:

  • Get the Photos. In some states, those photos will be mailed to you along with the citation. In other states you will have to make a “discovery” request to get them. When you get the pictures, examine them to see if the picture of the driver bears any likeness to you, and whether the license plate number can be read clearly. For example, Maryland Sen. Alex Mooney successfully fought a ticket for running a red light in 2003 despite a red light camera showing his car speeding through an intersection. Why? Because Mooney was able to prove to a judge that a car thief was behind the wheel of his car.
  • Was the Device Working Properly? At a trial, the police officer (or a prosecutor) must show that the device was working properly on the day the citation was issued. The prosecution must also present the camera’s photos showing the vehicle’s license plate and the driver, along with the driver’s license photo of the vehicle’s registered owner.
  • Consider Possible Defenses. If the images are clear, you can consider arguing that the photos have not been authenticated and therefore, “the evidence lacks foundation.” If the photographs are excluded, there is no evidence to convict you. (On the other hand, if the judge allows the photos in evidence over this proper objection, you may later have a basis for an appeal if found guilty.) If the photos are allowed into evidence but the images are not clear, you can consider challenging the photo’s clarity, arguing that the evidence is not convincing enough to convict you. You should not agree to testify unless you can truthfully say that you were not driving the vehicle at the time the picture was taken.  In addition, if you ran the light to avoid a serious accident or harm to others, you should make that argument, and it’s possible that the judge may find that you acted out of “necessity,” which may be reason enough to find you not guilty.

State by State Laws & Penalties

Find your state below to get in-depth information regarding the penalties and enforcement for running red lights and stop signs.

Idaho Illinois
Missouri Montana
New Hampshire
New Jersey
New Mexico
New York
North Carolina
North Dakota
Pennsylvania Rhode Island
South Carolina
South Dakota
West Virginia

Getting Help

If you have been caught by a red light camera and you want to dispute the traffic violation, you should consult with a qualified attorney. Your lawyer can explain to you what, if any, options you have for fighting a ticket based on red light cameras. 

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