Fighting a Red Light Camera Ticket

Common defenses to red light camera citations and deciding whether to contest the ticket in the first place.

Red light enforcement cameras are now commonplace in many U.S. cities. And if you're unlucky enough to get a red light camera ticket, you might be wondering whether it's worth trying to beat your ticket in court. Every situation is different. However, this article discusses some things you might want to consider—including common defenses and the consequences of admitting a violation—before deciding what to do.

Costs and Other Consequences of a Red Light Camera Ticket

Before deciding whether to contest a red light camera ticket, you may want to consider the consequences of admitting the violation. In most states, red light camera tickets are treated differently than other moving violations. Generally, a red light camera ticket won't add demerit points to your driving record or affect your insurance rates. And the fines are typically less than for non-camera traffic violations. Amounts vary, but in most states, the fine for a red light camera violation is $100 or less.

For some drivers, the investment of time and energy required to fight a ticket, might not be worth it. But for others—especially those with a good defense—contesting the ticket could be the way to go.

Common Red-Light-Camera-Ticket Defenses

State laws vary and the facts of every case are different. So, the viability of a defense depends on individual circumstances. But here are some of the more common defenses to red light camera violations.

Someone else was driving. Red light camera tickets are mailed to the registered owner of the vehicle. So, the presumption is that the owner was driving when the violation occurred. However, owners who can prove someone else was driving the vehicle generally don't have to pay the ticket. Depending on the situation, an owner might be able to prove he or she wasn't driving by providing:

  • a police report showing the vehicle had been stolen
  • a rental or lease agreement showing someone else had possession of the car, or
  • evidence of being somewhere else (on vacation, for instance) when the violation occurred.

In some states, to get off the hook, the registered owner must actually provide the court with the driver's identity. (This can, of course, put the owner in an awkward position.)

Generally, owners can contest a red light camera citation by mailing in an affidavit along with any relevant documents. However, certain situations might require an appearance in court.

Camera malfunction. Red light cameras systems are fairly accurate. However, they aren't perfect. These automated systems occasionally get triggered even though the driver didn't actually run the light. Generally, a violation is established if, at a red light, the driver failed to come to a complete stop prior to reaching the nearest of a limit line, crosswalk, or entering the intersection. But in most states, as long as the front wheels of the car pass the line before the light switches from yellow to red, the driver hasn't broken the law. So, it's important to review the photos and video to verify that they depict a true violation. If not, bring this to the judge's attention.

Standard red light ticket defenses. Some of the defenses that would normally apply to a red light ticket also work for red light camera tickets. So, drivers might be able to beat a red light camera ticket by showing they went through the light because:

  • they were directed to do so by a law enforcement officer
  • it was necessary to yield to an emergency vehicle, or
  • they were driving an emergency vehicle during an actual emergency.

Inadequate signage. Most states that allow red light cameras have specific rules requiring signs to be posted at any signal using cameras. A driver might have a defense if signs weren't posted at the intersection or the signs that were posted didn't meet the legal requirements.

State Laws Vary

This article gives an overview of common red light camera consequences and defenses. But the laws of every state are different. Before deciding what to do in your case, it's always best to check your state's law and talk to a knowledgeable attorney.

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