RED LIGHT CAMERAS
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The Links / Reference / FAQ page
highwayrobbery.net is a free-of-charge public service.
On this Links page - scroll down, or click on these links:
Congressman Dick Armey's Report:
Retired Congressman Dick Armey's
official website contained a big section about red light cameras,
including the above-entitled 20-page position paper, and links to
official studies, reports, and other documents. It was last updated in late 2002.
The July 2002 Red
Light Camera Report by the
California State Auditor
Fight Your Ticket ("FYT")
The book Fight Your Ticket and Win in California by Attorney David
W. Brown (Nolo
Press) is an old friend, and an
important resource. FYT
is the best
guide available to the general traffic court procedures that are the same for all kinds of tickets, not just red light camera
National Motorists Association
S W I T R S
Contacting the Court
(Powerful tools for
all kinds of political and/or legal research)
Case Law at FindLaw
L A W Y E R S
The CalAware Guide - Getting Government Documents
( Sorry, there's no link - this is a book! )
This book tells you how to get access to public information, whether that information is contained in hidden government documents, or coming from a government meeting that should be open to the public, but isn't.
This book is a secret weapon !
It is The CalAware Guide to Journalism Law in California, by Terry Francke, General Counsel of Californians Aware (www.CalAware.org , (916) 487-7000).
The title may be misleading. It might cause you to assume that all the Guide contains is instructions for journalists on how to cover city council and other government meetings. It does cover that subject, in great depth, but it also has a whole chapter on the California Public Records Act, which is the State law that allows you extensive access to government documents (if you know your rights, and how to ask for access - also see highwayrobbery.net's Getting Records page).
From the Guide's "Detailed Table of Contents," here are some of the questions covered.
Every journalist should have a copy of the Guide next to his computer. The best journalists do, but the Weekly Bugle
reporter covering the machinations of your local city council may not have even
heard of it. You may want to suggest that he or she get a copy. Or, you could give him or her a copy!
Every councilmember and school board member should be handed a copy on the day they're sworn into office. The public information table at their meetings should have a copy for the public to read.
Every public library should have a few copies of this book. Most don't have any. If you want to make a contribution (inexpensively, and tax-deductibly) to open government (a.k.a. "Sunshine") in your town, buy your library a copy or two of this book. If you do that, let me know what library it is in, and I will publish the address here.
Every high school and college government/political science instructor should have a copy.
Every City Clerk should have a copy on their public counter, and another on their own desk.
The Guide is over 300 pages of well-written, solid information (not even one cute cartoon). The Table of Contents is organized in Q&A format (see sample, above), and there is a table of cases in the back. Also included are the full language of the CPRA, the Brown Act and the Bagley-Keane Act, as well as perforated pages with request forms and other useful tools. It is available in some college bookstores and public libraries, or can be ordered direct from CalAware at (916) 487-7000 or at http://www.CalAware.org . The direct-order cost is $22.50 per copy, including postage and tax, with a discount available on 10 or more copies. And, if you would like to join Californians Aware, you don't have to be a journalist. Individual members of the public are welcomed.
- 4 -
FAQ # 1: I got a ticket for a rolling right turn. In the picture, it looks like my brake lights were on. That proves I stopped, doesn't it?
Answer: Not necessarily. Reflection of the camera's flash can make
your brake lights look "on." Look at your third stoplight - is it on? You
may have been braking to
slow down for the corner, but didn't make the required full stop at the corner.
In most towns, the cameras take a 12-second-long video of the incident - and that video is up on a website so that you can look at it. Go to the site and have a look. If the video shows you made a full stop, or very close to one, ask the officer to dismiss your ticket.
If the video seems to show that you did not stop, but you don't believe it, here is an alternate way to determine if you stopped, or not. If the ticket is from a RedFlex camera, it will have a black "data strip" along the top edge of the before-and-after photos. The numbers in the data strip should enable you to tell how much time elapsed between the 'before' and the 'after' photos. ( You may have to subtract the time in the 'before' photo from the time in the 'after' photo. If you are having trouble figuring out which numbers are which, have a look at the big "How to Read Your Late Time" box in Defect # 7 on the Home page. And, if the white-on-black numbers are too faint to read, put the ticket up on a window, so that the light from outdoors comes through the paper. ) Once you know the elapsed time, do the following easy experiment. Get a stopwatch and go to a corner that is similar to the one your ticket is from. Make a full stop, then start the stopwatch, hit the gas, and time how long it takes you to get the same distance around the corner as was shown in the 'after' photo. If the time it takes you is roughly equal to, or smaller than, the elapsed time calculated from your ticket, maybe you made a full stop, or very close to one!
Also see FAQs # 15, 27, 37 & 40.
FAQ # 2: In Culver City, the Commissioner deliberately kept the monitor (used to
display the photos) turned so that during trials the public could not see the
photos. Are the courts in other towns limiting to public's ability to observe red light camera trials?
Answer: It is to your advantage to have members of the public observing your trial. That's why we have the Sixth Amendment ("In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial..."). Let me know
if "your" court is hiding the photos or doing anything else to interfere with the public's ability to attend and observe red light camera trials. See also
Set # 3 of Culver City Documents. For more about the notice shown above (we have been told that it has been taken down), read this
FAQ # 3: It's not me pictured on the ticket. Am I required to disclose the identity of the person in the photo?
Answer: No! Why not? See the "It's Not Me" section in the middle of the Your Ticket page.
FAQ # 4: If I take Community Service, how many hours will I have to do? And, can I take traffic school too?
Answer: Some judges will allow Community Service only if you are a full-time student or are on disability. Others have no set rules as to who qualifies, but will try to discourage you from taking it - probably because their experience has been that many people won't do the hours required. Most judges require 51 hours, but it can be as low as 16 hours, depending upon who is your judge. See the Feb. 7, Feb. 18 and Sept. 4, 2003 entries in the Culver City chronology on the Camera Towns page. And yes, some judges will let you take both community service and traffic school.
FAQ # 5: I'm thinking about fighting my ticket and want to get some of the City's documents or records. How do I do that?
Answer: You can do a "Discovery." It's easy. See: Getting Records.
FAQ # 6: Engineers who have studied red light running - those who do not stand to gain financially from the use of red light cameras - suggest that cities try alternatives to cameras before installing cameras. What are these alternatives?
Answer: Two alternatives are lengthening the yellow, and improving pavement markings. Details, including a discussion of whether violations will "rebound" after the yellow is lengthened, are here: Red light camera studies.
FAQ # 7:
I have seen small optical devices, high up on signal arms
around town. Are they some kind of red light camera?
Answer: There are more and more devices mounted on poles around town, for all kinds
of purposes. Plus, there is no standardized look to red light camera equipment, as there are at least four companies
competing in the field.
The device you saw could be an Opticom receiver, which picks up the white strobe flashes from emergency vehicles and then changes the signal to halt cross traffic. Opticoms have been around for more than 40 years, and most cities have them. On major routes through town, you will find Opticom receivers at every intersection.
Or, if what you saw looked more like a camera, and it was pointed downward at a steep angle (or almost straight down), it might be there - in place of loops in the pavement - to detect cars and control the signal cycle, or to measure the speed of cars to trigger a (separate) red light camera.
Red light camera systems can be recognized by their bulk. They will have multiple devices, either in a single large cabinet or in separate, smaller enclosures. Most red light camera systems, but not all, will also have a flash unit with a large silver reflector. Some may use "non-visible" (to humans) infrared light, provided by multiple light-emitting diodes (LED's), for camera light.
RedFlex Cam with a Visible-Light Flash RedFlex Cam with a Non-visible (LED) Flash Close-up of LED Non-visible Flash
Another way to tell if a city has red light cameras is to Google the name of the city ("City of ____") plus the words red light camera. If the city has red light cameras or if the city council has discussed having them, Google will bring up newspaper articles.
If you're still not sure of what the device is, you could call the police department, or the public works department, and ask them.
# 8: If you enter
an intersection when the light is yellow, how far across the intersection
do you have to be, when the light turns red, to NOT receive a red light camera
Answer: In California, if any part of your car (or even the winch on your front bumper)
is beyond the closest edge of the first limit line (or, if there is no limit line, the closest edge of the first line of the crosswalk)
before the light becomes steadily red, it's legal for you to finish crossing the intersection, even if the light becomes steadily red long before you get to the other side. See Cal. Veh. Code Sec. 21453(a), and also FAQ # 32 and Defect # 7 on this site. And
please note that in the rules may be different in other states - see
Photos # 5 & 6 on this page.
A lot of people don't understand this law, including the columnist and the traffic school below.
FAQ # 9: I entered an intersection tonight when the light was yellow and as I went through I saw a flash from the camera. Now I'm worried about receiving a ticket. How long before I can relax when I go to my mailbox?
Answer: The camera could have been flashing a car just behind you. If it was you they were flashing, they have only 15 calendar days to send the ticket to you. California Vehicle Code Section. 40518 says:
"Whenever a written notice to appear has been issued by a
peace officer or by a qualified employee of a law enforcement agency
on a form approved by the Judicial Council for an alleged violation
of Section 22451, or, based on an alleged violation of Section 21453,
21455, or 22101 recorded by an automated traffic enforcement system pursuant
to Section 21455.5 or 22451, and delivered
by mail within 15 days of
the alleged violation to the current address of the registered owner
of the vehicle on file
with the department, with a
mailing obtained as evidence of service, an exact and legible
duplicate copy of the notice when filed with the magistrate shall
constitute a complaint to which the defendant may enter a plea."
If you are the registered
owner of the car and you have reliable mail service, you can relax if a ticket is not in your
mailbox by about 2-1/2 weeks from now. But if you find that you can't relax, are still worried that there might be a ticket out there,
you could phone the Superior Court for the town where the camera is and ask the phone clerk if there is a ticket
in your name. Just keep in mind
that some courts are overloaded with these tickets, and so may not have your ticket entered into their computer
until a month (or more) after the date of
If you are not the registered owner: The 15-day requirement applies only to the first mailing of the ticket, which is usually to the registered owner of the car. If he or she gave your name to the police, who then re-issued the ticket to you, the 15-day requirement does not apply.
If you did get a ticket in the mail, be sure to read Defect # 8 on the Home Page.
FAQ # 10:
What about class action suits?
Answer: There's some here in California, and a number of others around the country. See the index to cases.
FAQ # 11: What about GPS-based warning devices? Or license plate covers, sprays, removing the front license plate, or even wearing a mask, so the camera can't get a clear photo of your plates or your face?
Answer: There is a controversy as to
whether reflective sprays (illegal in California with a $250 fine for sellers, under
Bill 801) or covers (illegal under CVC 5201(f)) can actually blur the photos, as claimed by
their marketers. I would trust, and publish here, the results of a legibility test conducted by an
organization having good technical credentials - but
it is unlikely that Consumer Reports will ever do such a test. I haven't made any attempt to conduct
a test, either. However, I can report that
in my 8+ years of operating this website, I have never had someone tell me that they got a ticket despite
using a spray or a cover.
At least one high-ranking police officer must believe that the covers work. In Sept. 2011 New Orleans Police Chief Ronal Serpas announced that NOPD Captain Mike Glasser was under investigation for using a questionable license plate cover on his take home police unit.
A number of manufacturers are marketing GPS-based hardware (TomTom, Garmin, Magellan) capable of warning you when you're approaching a location known to be equipped with a camera. And, there are "apps" for smart phones. The effectiveness of these warning systems will depend heavily upon the developer maintaining a very up-to-date data base of GPS coordinates - and users remembering to make a monthly download of the updates. If these systems become popular, some states may try to ban the use of them.
Even if you never speed or run red lights, you may need to purchase hardware or software to warn you when you're approaching a camera enforced location. Why? The drivers in front of you will be exhibiting unexpected behavior, like slamming on their brakes on a brand new yellow, or because they have "local" knowledge that there's a speed camera there, or because their system has just warned them of an upcoming camera. The warning from your nav system will save you from rear-ending them - an accident for which the law would automatically hold you responsible.
Most newer red light camera installations take pictures of both ends of the car, so unbolting the front plate won't make a difference.
A fundamental problem with all the protective measures above is that the average person who gets a red light camera ticket is not a speeder or aggressive driver, but is older, drives at moderate speeds or with "the flow" and has a clean driving record, so has never thought he would get a camera ticket -- thus making it unlikely that he would purchase and install protective measures "just in case."
If you decide to wear a mask, be sure it doesn't cover your eyes or restrict your peripheral vision. That's unsafe, and illegal, too.
If you would like to read more about sprays and warning devices, try the "Photo Enforcement" forum in the "Other Enforcement and Countermeasures" Section at RadarDetector.net.
FAQ # 12: Is it true that a ticket never gets mailed to you in the first place if the picture of the driver is unclear?
Answer: This varies from city to city. In one
local city I've seen lots of tickets where you can't tell if the image
behind the windshield is a person's head, or a small evergreen
shrub. And most people who get one of those, plead guilty and pay
it! Either because they don't know that there has to be a picture
of your face, or because they're afraid that if they go to court
(assuming they can afford to post the $490 bail) and fight the ticket
and lose, they'll be denied traffic school - which happens about 20% of
in that city.
See Defect # 1 on the Home page, the Snitch Ticket section on the Your Ticket page, and the class action information in the News section, below.
FAQ # 13: Are speed cameras coming?
Answer: Bills to legalize photo radar were introduced in the California legislature in 2005, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011. All failed to pass, but they could try again in 2013. For info
about any current bill,
see the Legislation section on the Action page.
A little history: Until 2007, there were some speed cameras already working - illegally - in California. There's a little discussion about the illegal cameras in the Humor section below, and in the Los Angeles, MRCA, and San Jose sections on the Camera Towns page. There's a book about speed cameras, in the Speeding Ticket section, below.
FAQ # 14: I need it, but attended traffic school less than 18 months ago. What do I do?
Answer: See the "Alternatives" box in the Handling Your Ticket section on the Your Ticket page).
FAQ # 15: Why is the fine
so high in California ? Are there exceptions?
Answer: When defendants raise that question in court, the judges explain that the State legislature set the fine so high (current fine is approx. $490, not including the approx. $100 cost of attending traffic school) in order to strongly deter drivers from running red lights. They also usually quote figures, provided by the local police, which say that accidents here are down 10 - 40% as the result of the cameras. But on the East coast, where the fines are as low as $50 (and the tickets don't carry a "point"), the police there have been publishing similar accident reduction figures. Evidently, at least on the East coast, a much smaller penalty has been equally effective in getting drivers to behave.
Draw your own conclusion as to why, absent a greater deterrence value, California's penalty needs to be so many times harsher.
Until recently, the City of San Francisco had, on its website, an explanation of how and why the fine grew from the initial $104 (in 1996). That explanation is archived.
The California legislature is continuing to increase the fine. A new $20 surcharge went into effect on June 10, 2010 (enacted by Executive Session Bill ACX 8-3), and in the governor's 2010 budget proposal there was a new $40 surcharge which, had it been enacted (it was not), would have gone into effect on Jan. 1, 2011 - see the Legislation section on the Action/Legis page.
Once upon a time there was an exception to the sky-high fines. Until Aug. 2008, the City of LA cited its rolling right turns under Subsection (b) of CVC 21453, instead of (a), which resulted in a much-lower fine - $159 including all fees (about $250 when today's higher surcharges are included). For info about LA's formerly-reduced fine and the difference between (a) and (b), see the LA City Documents page. Around the state, a few judges offer lower fines to defendants with rolling right tickets, but most often it is just a $100 reduction.
Also see FAQs # 4, 16, 27, 37 & 40.
FAQ # 16: Who gets the
A signal control box in Tampa, Florida.
In Summer 2005, seventeen traffic signal control boxes were decorated in
various themes, as part of a City-run public art project.
The Treasure Chest design was sponsored by Sterling Payment Technologies, LLC.
Answer: Approximately $150 goes to the city - and the city will use most of that to pay the rent for the cameras. The rest goes to Sacramento. One city's description of how the money is split up is on pages 5 and 6 of this report.
If you would like a more official answer, you can look at this very complex official publication: Uniform Bail and Penalty Schedules.
FAQ # 17: How much do cities pay for the cameras?
Answer: Some cities pay three times as much as others! In their initial contracts, nearly all cities agreed to pay about $6000 per camera per month. But now many of those initial contracts have expired, giving cities the opportunity to negotiate a lower rate upon renewal. Some cities have
negotiated hard, and now pay
significantly less than $6000, often less than half! Examples: Bakersfield $3133, Baldwin Park $2659, Covina $2200, Davis $2500, Del Mar $1500, El Cajon $3344, Escondido $2833, Gardena (now closed) was paying $3500 and was offered $60,000 not to cancel the program (go to their Documents page to see how they negotiated), Garden Grove $2279, Hawthorne $2800, Laguna Woods was paying $3000 but in June 2012 was offered a 50% discount after they threatened to cancel the program, Montebello $2500, Oceanside $3052, Oxnard $2733, San Francisco $3434, South Gate $2800, Solana Beach $2225, and Ventura $1800. These cities are less likely to go into the red if yellows are lengthened as recommended in a 2012 government-funded study. (See the expanded version of Defect # 3 for more information about the NCHRP study.)
Other cities have agreed to continue paying much more, sometimes close to $6000! Because red light camera contracts can involve multiple cameras over a term of 60 months or more, the penalty to a city for "failure to negotiate" (or failure to read the fine print) can amount to more than a million Dollars. Here are some of those cities, along with the rent they agreed to pay for each camera each month (and, in parentheses, the total they will overpay - compared to a $3000 target rent - during their current renewal period): Belmont $5870 ($137,760), Beverly Hills $5570 ($277,560), Capitola $5100 ($252,600), Citrus Heights $5500 ($540,000), Daly City $5520 ($604,800), Elk Grove $5870 ($620,000), Emeryville $6000 (closed), Encinitas $3700 ($176,400), Fremont $4800 ($1,512,000), Glendale $5500 (closed), Highland $5750 ($132,000), Los Alamitos $4576 ($270,000), Marysville $5500 ($600,000), Modesto $5500 ($840,000), Murrieta $4850 (closed), Newark $5700 ($766,800), Oakland $4625 (proposed 3-year extension, $760,500), Poway $3696 ($208,800), Redding $4500 ($630,000), San Leandro $5200 ($1,056,000), San Mateo $4980 ($712,800), Santa Ana $3900 ($1,080,000), Victorville $6000 ($900,000). Elk Grove, in addition to paying too much, signed a two-year extension agreement which heavily penalizes the City if it does not agree to a further extension!
Some cities have negotiated the ability to quit with little notice. In 2004 RedFlex agreed to a contract allowing the City of Modesto to end its contract with only ten days' notice, penalty free, once the cameras were 60 months old. In 2010 RedFlex agreed to contract terms allowing Montebello and South Gate to end their contracts with only 30 days' notice, penalty free. And in 2011 RedFlex agreed to a contract allowing the City of Napa to end its contract with only 10 days' notice, penalty free. Other cities, such as Victorville and San Bernardino, struggled, unsuccessfully, to escape from their contracts.
In June 2012 RedFlex offered the City of Riverside a $300,000 discount when their Public Works Director recommended the cancellation of the program. (We don't know if the City eventually received the discount, or forgot about it.) This contrasts with the vigilance shown in another instance, where staff caught an error in the monthly billing which could have cost the City $48,000 annually.
RedFlex gave the City of Baldwin Park a $350,000 credit towards past camera rent, and a $75,000 credit during each year of the renewal term.
The contracts for all these cities are available on their respective Documents pages, here at highwayrobbery.net.
Why Do They Pay So Much
Early 2013 revelations in Chicago allege bribery by the City's camera vendor. But that's Chicago, a town that is famous for corruption. What about Small Town America?
A possible explanation for the many failures of other towns to negotiate a good price would be that the police who do the negotiation have grown too close to their counterparts at the camera company. A local newspaper obtained emails revealing that in one city, the deputy chief responsible for negotiating the city's red light camera contract was asking the camera company about employment at the same time she was negotiating the contract, and the sergeant who ran the program was offering to assist the company with lobbying and marketing.
FAQ # 18: A friend pointed out to me that an article about my City states that the company operating the cameras is paid per ticket, and from what I know California lawmakers made that illegal on Jan. 1, 2004. Seems too unbelievable that such information would slip past the City. If the writer is correct, lots of tickets are going to be dismissed.
There's a loophole in the law. Reporters never seem to catch it,
but cities that are operating under a contract that they
signed prior to Jan. 1, 2004 may continue to pay the camera company on
a per-ticket basis. They're grandfathered. The presence of the loophole
caused a gold rush in late December 2003 -
cities were signing contracts like crazy (and some made disadvantageous
deals). See Subsection 'B' of Defect # 10 on the Home page, and the discussion of AB 1022 on the Action page.
FAQ # 19: What about all those studies saying that photo enforcement is good for us? Have red light cameras really increased the incidence of rear-enders? And is the claim that cameras decrease serious accidents valid?
It is now generally accepted that cameras do increase rear-enders. But I am a guy who has
to "see it for himself." I reviewed ten
years of accident reports at Newport /
17th in Costa Mesa, and found a near-doubling of
rear-enders since the camera went in (my count of rear-enders there
appears in the third paragraph of the letter in Set # 10 of Costa
See also the Dueling Studies section on my Industry PR page.
FAQ # 20: I am looking at the photo they sent me and I don't believe the signal really is red. It looks orange!
I have noticed that the red signal light often looks very orange (or yellow) on the
photos that are printed on the tickets. It happens more often in
cities that use video-based ticketing (as opposed to the older 35mm
"wet film" cameras). So how can you tell if it is a red, or a
yellow, that you are looking at?
Most often, you can tell by the position of the light on the "backboard," the rectangle of flat black metal that surrounds most lights. If the light is near the top (or above the center) of the rectangle, it's a red. If it's in the middle, it's a yellow.
If you can't see the edges of the backboard because there is something dark in the background behind it, you may be able to use a nearby object as a reference point. For example, in the photos below, the red arrow is just above the top edge of the square white sign, and the yellow is well below that top edge. (It may be necessary to go out to the intersection, stand near where the camera is, and see what lines-up; you may want to take a small stepladder with you - but don't block the red light camera's lens with your head as you could be accused of obstructing justice.)
I used my own camera
to take these photos (above) of the signal at eastbound Jefferson /
Culver City; as a result, the backboard stands-out from the dark
trees much more than it does on a real ticket, and the colors are
truer. Here (below) is my attempt to simulate what these same
would look like on a real ticket mailed to a motorist.
But sometimes you may be right - it really IS yellow. Look at this photo.
(For more information about the lamps, and this photo, see Defect # 7. And, for scientific information about the wavelengths of traffic light lamps - including a comparison of incandescent vs. LED, see this page.)
FAQ # 21: I heard that two men were convicted of perjury on a red light camera ticket.
Answer: That's true. During a Long Beach, California red light camera
ticket trial in December 2003 the driver told the traffic court
commissioner hearing the case that there had been some teenage
carjackers chasing him, and that's why he ran the light. He
brought along a friend who testified he had been a passenger in the car. He confirmed the driver's
story. Unfortunately for the driver and "passenger," the video of the violation showed
that there was no one in the passenger seat of the violator's
car. The commissioner, believing he had been lied to, referred
the case to the district attorney's office for criminal
prosecution. In Oct. 2004, after a one-day trial where the
commissioner testified against them, both men were convicted of felony
perjury and were sentenced to 120 days (driver) and 90 days (passenger)
In 2010 an English taxi driver was sentenced to 8 months in jail for "perverting the course of justice," after she used fake car repair documents in an attempt to prove that a problem with her taxi's brakes was to blame for her red light tickets. Article.
You are on the Links/Ref/FAQ page
License plate by Rick Ngoc Ho, OC Register
FAQ # 22: "You know, one beautiful thing about cameras, they don't care if you're an off-duty cop, (or) anything like that, everyone is equal under the law." [From an Internet post.]
Answer: The post-er suggests that the cameras are democratic, that they don't "profile" - or play favorites - that
they give out tickets equally to all, including
rich guys, connected bureaucrats, law enforcement officers off-duty or on, the mayor, and their friends and family.
I disagree. I think cameras make favoritism the "default" condition, and make racism nearly impossible to detect.
Favored by default: Bureaucrats and govt. "insiders." An April 2008 Orange County Register article ("Special License Plates Shield Officials from Traffic Tickets") pointed out that in California there are nearly one million private vehicles having "confidential" license plate numbers protected from easy or efficient look up, making those vehicles' owners effectively invisible to agencies attempting to process parking, toll, and red light camera violations. In 2009 the Register reported that the legislature was extending the "confidential" treatment to even more people!
(For comparison, the State of Arizona has 22,539 cars on its protected list, Illinois has 5867, Maryland has 8303, Pennsylvania has 8200, and Texas has 18,323. Source.)
In Feb. 2010 a bill was launched in Sacramento to address the problem, but it failed to pass. In 2011 it was re-launched, but an amendment made it into a bill highwayrobbery.net could not support - and it too failed to pass. In 2012 there was another try. And in 2013 there was AB 487 - see the Legislation section on the Action/Legis page.
In a 2001 State Senate hearing they discussed several instances where our State legislators were flashed but never received tickets (see page 14 of the transcript or page 16 of the pdf).
On Nov. 9 and 11, 2010 the Sacramento Bee wrote and editorialized about the protected plates.
On Dec. 12, 2010 Thomas Peele and Josh Richman of the Contra Costa Times wrote about toll scofflaws in the Bay Area.
In Feb. 2010 Reason Magazine published a Steven Greenhut article entitled "Class War - How Public Servants Became Our Masters."
To see the list of occupations eligible for protected plates, see CVC 1808.4.
On May 19, 2011 Los Angeles City Controller Wendy Greuel published an audit (see page 28) showing that 30% of the parking tickets issued to cars with protected plates never were paid. An estimated 11,250 unpaid tickets, in five years.
To see the DMV's "Request for Confidentiality of Home Address" form - which is one of the very few DMV forms not available on the DMV's website - click Form # INV32.
Text Continues Below
Steve Jobs' Car, No Plates
Favored by default: Drunks. If a "live" cop sees a motorist run a red and the motorist has been drinking, the motorist will go to jail for DUI, while a red light camera will let him off with a fine, and nothing will be done about his habit of drinking and driving until he causes an accident or kills someone.
Favored by default: The uninsured and unregistered. When a "live" cop pulls someone over, he will check for insurance and registration, and confiscate the car if there is none. But with a camera ticket there is no demand to prove that you are insured and registered. Why is that? Also see FAQ # 38.
Geographic profiling: Here in California, no city issues a ticket to 100% of the people photographed - the average is well below 50%. There is a selection process, done by humans. ( While I am not suggesting that either of the following cities profiles, their statistics demonstrate the potential to do so. For example, in 2004 San Francisco photographed 29,335 cars but issued only 7943 tickets. Los Angeles, in 2003, photographed 8678 cars but issued 3981 tickets. These figures - from the Camera Towns page - are old. But they remain typical. ) We would hope that the police personnel doing the selection would throw out only the tickets where the photos are too blurry, but what is to stop them from giving a free pass to the mayor and the "locals," people who live (and vote) in town?
"Locals" have a further advantage - they know where the cameras are. In a Jul. 22, 2012 guest editorial (see its last paragraph), the mayor of a Florida city revealed that 78% of that city's tickets go to visitors.
Racial profiling: In 2012 the Marin County Grand Jury found, "Cameras are incapable of racial profiling and therefore not subject to lawsuits alleging racial bias," but did not offer evidence or discussion to support their finding. On the east coast ("owner responsibility" states), the camera tickets do not require a photo of the driver's face, but out here in the west ("driver responsibility" states) there has to be a good photo of the driver, and that "face photo" provides the potential for racial profiling.
Wealth profiling: Every ticket shows the year, make and condition of the vehicle.
Perhaps the Legislature foresaw the possibility of profiling or favoritism when they wrote the CVC 21455.5 requirement that cities shall develop "uniform guidelines for screening and issuing violations." See Defect # 10 - A on the Home page for more about guidelines.
The legislature did not specify the content of the guidelines, but I suggest that there should be a requirement that the name, address and face photo of the driver not be visible to the city personnel making the final decision whether the ticket is to be issued, or not.
I also suggest that there be a mechanism to assure that the insiders on the protected list get their fair share of the tickets. In 2010 there was a bill in California's legislature to do just that. It failed to pass, was re-launched as AB 3 in the 2011 session, which failed to pass, and then again as AB 2192 in the 2012 session. Which also failed to pass. There is a new bill in 2013 - see it at the top of the Action/Legis page.
Although it is not profiling - it is due to the limitations of the equipment - a large proportion of violators never even get flashed. See FAQ # 27.
FAQ # 23: What's the difference between a trial and an arraignment?
Answer: The terms are not interchangeable. Read about them in the big green Terminology box on the Your Ticket page.
FAQ # 24: Can I argue (in my defense) that this was a speed trap?
Answer: I don't think much of the speed trap defense - that
they measured your speed over some loops or were using radar - against a red light camera ticket. I have never
seen the simplistic "the camera uses loops, or
a radar, therefore it is a speed trap" defense work, on any red light ticket. When judges hear that defense they
say that they don't need the (possibly illegally-obtained) speed reading to
convict you, and will ignore your speed, because they have a photo
(or a video) showing your car behind the limit line when the light was red. "Truth in Evidence" (see section on
this website) allows them to do such things.
In the landmark San Diego case People vs. John Allen, the judge explained why he would not accept the speed trap defense. Read that May 29, 2001 ruling here.
The speed trap defense is pushed by other Web advisors, and I realize that no matter what I say, you may decide to throw "speed trap" into your defense along with whatever other defenses you have. But please consider that the judge has probably heard the "canned" speed trap defense from many other defendants before you, and may have developed a knee-jerk reaction when he hears the familiar wording (or sees it in a TBD). So, if you are going to use this defense, and have picked-up the text somewhere on the Internet, at least change the wording some.
There is a portion of the "Speed Trap" law that could work, on a red light camera ticket. If you feel that the Posted Speed on the street where you were cited is way too low, read Defect # 3 on the Home page.
And, if you got a speeding ticket, and radar was used, you definitely want to look at the Speed Trap law. See the Speeding Ticket section near the bottom of this page.
FAQ # 25: What if I had to run the signal, because of a tailgater, road-rager, sirens, medical emergency, etcetera?
Answer: This is a legitimate defense, but doesn't work very often. It is
called a "necessity defense." Vehicle Code
Section 21462 says, "The driver of any vehicle... shall obey... any official traffic signal... unless otherwise directed by a police or
traffic officer or when it is necessary for the purpose of avoiding a
collision or in case of other emergency...."
A lot of people tell the judge that there was a siren behind them. Because they have heard it so much, the judges won't take anyone's word for it. I suggest that you try to get proof. See if the emergency vehicle or the tailgater is visible in the still photos or video of the violation. Or try to figure out what city's fire department would have been on that street (could be an ambulance from a neighboring city, heading to a hospital or regional trauma center), contact that fire department and ask for records of runs. Sometimes the color of the fire trucks will help you figure out what city they were from. Get a printout, or a letter from them. You will have a far better chance of winning than someone who brings no documentation with them.
I have seen just a few cases where a necessity defense was successful.
1. There was a police chase, and the defendant had proof (Culver City, 11-14-02).
2. A woman was being followed from a mall by people with whom she had had words (Culver City, 12-5-02).
3. The engine was sputtering / about to quit, immediately after visit to nearby car dealer's repair facility (Hawthorne, 12-14-04).
There is a discussion about necessity defense, at http://answers.google.com/answers/threadview?id=34826 .
A famous case (although the defendant lost) is People v. Ausen, 40 Cal.App.2d Supp. 831.
FAQ # 26: I paid my ticket months ago and now I hear they are throwing them out.
Answer: The court is probably dismissing current tickets, either at arraignment, or at trial. It is rare for them to reach
back into time and voluntarily (without you asking for it) reverse old tickets that have already been
paid off, but here are some examples: 3018 East LA tickets in 2003, 569 Costa Mesa tickets and 613 Bakersfield
tickets in 2004, 3000 Union City tickets in 2005, 1000 San Bernardino tickets in 2008, 411 San Carlos tickets in 2009.
Napa (in 2011) gave us an example of a city dismissing only the unpaid tickets.
But you could try to re-open your case, make the same argument that is getting the current tickets dismissed, and get your money back. There's a catch, though. It is harder to re-open a case once it's been closed for more than six months. Your case would have closed on the date that you turned in the traffic school certificate (or, if you did not attend TS, the date you finished paying your fine). If it has been more than six months since then, I don't even know what the re-opening process is. I just know that it is more complex. But if it has been less than six months, you make the request by filling-out a one-page form ("Bail Forfeiture Set Aside Motion to Re-open Case"), at the clerk's window.
Some more info about re-opening is on the Bakersfield Documents page, Set # 7. Note that this simple process would not apply to a case where you went to trial and were found guilty.
FAQ # 27: Two frequent questions about right turns!
Question A: I got a ticket for a right turn, but there was no sign there saying I couldn't turn right.
Question B: I went back to where I got my ticket and lots of cars weren't getting flashed when they rolled around the corner. Why me?
Answer A: At most intersections in California you're allowed to make a right turn at a red signal, but only if you come to a full stop first. There is no requirement for the city
to post signs at right turns saying "Stop Before Turning" or something like that. If the authorities want to prohibit right turns on red, they will put up a sign saying "No Right Turn on Red," or they will equip the signal to display a lighted red right-turn arrow.
See Sign Requirements (at the bottom of that page) for more details.
Answer B: To my knowledge, the red light camera makers have not devised a good way (reliable, cheap, not too technical for a judge to understand) to measure a right-turning car's speed right at the limit line. Since the camera computer doesn't know for sure if you made a full stop at the limit line, or were doing a couple mph as you crossed the line, the computer has to use other information in order to make its decision to flash you, or not. What most systems do is measure your speed at a measuring point (usually a couple of loops in the pavement) about 10 or 15 feet before the limit line, and use that speed to predict whether it will be physically possible for you to stop in the short amount of road remaining. They know that if at the measuring point you are going faster than a certain "trigger speed" (my term) or "threshold speed" (their term) - set by them somewhere between 10 and 18 mph - you will have no choice but to roll the corner. Unless you have great brakes and wide, sticky tires. The motorists who don't get flashed are the ones going slower than the trigger speed at the previously mentioned measuring point. They may roll past the limit line and around the corner at a speed equal to yours, or greater, but if their approach to the area was slow - below the trigger speed - they will not trigger the camera. Here's another depiction of the same idea:
Speed 50 ft. before
Speed over measuring
Speed at Limit Line
Trigger Speed or more
Less than Trigger Speed
For one city's report discussing trigger speed, see the bottom paragraph on page 2.6.3 of this report. Also, have a look at FAQs # 4, 15, 22, 37 & 40.
FAQ # 28: Will I lose my "right to a speedy trial" if I enter my not guilty plea by mail, phone, Internet, or at the clerks' window?
Answer: Yes! CVC
Section 40519, the statute which permits pleading by mail, says, "Any person using this procedure shall be deemed to
have waived the right to be tried within the statutory period." And in 2010, Section 40519 was amended to make things even clearer. They added: "A plea of not guilty under this section must be made in court at the arraignment." In
Fight Your Ticket, David Brown says, "In avoiding a separate court date for
arraignment, you give up your right to insist on a trial within 45 days afterward." So, my recommendation is that if
you want to be 100% sure
of retaining your right to speedy trial, you should enter your not guilty plea in front of a judge.
If you do a Trial by Declaration, you effectively give up your right to a speedy trial, including on any Trial de Novo. See: People v. Benhoor.
FAQ # 29: If I fight my case, won't I lose the right to attend traffic school?
Answer: Defendants who go to trial and lose can still ask for traffic school (either kind), although
the granting of it after trial is at the discretion of the judge.
If the phone attendants at the courthouse or the central phone bank are telling callers that there is no traffic school after trial, call back, ask for the Senior Court Manager, and complain.
If at the beginning of the trial session the bailiff in the courtroom is telling defendants that there is no traffic school after trial, or discussing traffic school in any other way that you feel is arm-twisting or coercive, complain at the bailiff's office in the courthouse. Bailiffs should not be doing the judge's dirty work!
If at the beginning of the trial session your judge announces to everyone that there is no traffic school after trial, or indicates that while there is a chance of getting it, the chance is very, very small, do a Challenge. See the Editorial below (in box) for details.
FAQ # 30: Tonight, as I was looking for a particular business, I drove a little past the line on a red light camera intersection where the light was red. I stopped before the back tires went over the line and backed up but the lights all went off. I'm wondering if I'll still get a ticket and if there's a way to fight it since I didn't actually go through the intersection.
Answer: Technically it is a violation. Legally, it does not matter that you didn't intend to run the light, as "specific intent" is not required. But if the pictures show that you stopped and backed up, maybe the cop who decides which tickets get mailed out (and which ones don't) will give you a break. If he does mail you a ticket, you could phone him and see if you can convince him to withdraw it. (Before you phone him, make sure that it is not a Snitch Ticket - see the Your Ticket page.) If talking to the cop doesn't work, you could plead not guilty, go to trial, and see if the judge will give you a break.
FAQ # 31: I wanted to try to request an extension and searched online, as well
as called the automated phone service - but I couldn't find my citation number. It didn't
pop up! I even searched thru
my driver's license, and an old ticket only came up.
Do you think that I am in the clear - that they have no record of my ticket? And that I don't have to pay for this?
Answer: I can think of two possibilities.
1. It could be a Snitch (Fake) Ticket, as described on my Your Ticket page.
2. The court could be backlogged, due to the influx of so many new (automated) tickets, and simply hasn't had a chance to get it into their computer. At least one court (see the Bakersfield Documents page, Set # 4) has publicly admitted being swamped. But the courts always seem to catch up, so I don't recommend ignoring the ticket.
You could try phoning one of the live operators, see if they can find your ticket. Or, though I haven't personally tried it, I suppose you could mail them a request for the extension. Just be sure to do it by certified mail, return receipt requested.
FAQ # 32: In the first picture (on the ticket) my front bumper is right at the limit line. Because of the angle the picture is taken from, it's possible that my bumper may have been over the limit line. So why did they ticket me?
Answer: The cameras are set up to always take the first photo with the car close to the limit line, without regard to how long the
signal had been red. So, the photo you see could have been taken when the signal had been red for 0.1 second, or
even 4.0 seconds. You can't tell from the photo how late you were. Most cities indicate, somewhere on the ticket, your Late Time.
But a few choose not to, even though their system is capable of doing so and may have done so in the past. In
those cities, you won't be able to
tell how late you were unless you contact
the police (they sometimes insist that you come in to view the photos), OR file a discovery which would force them to
send the information to you.
See also FAQ # 8, and the big purple "How to Read Your Late Time" box in Defect # 7 on the Home page.
FAQ # 33: They have a picture of my license plates - isn't that enough to prove it was me, and convict me?
Answer: No, not in California! In this state they have to have a picture of your face. They have to convince the judge that YOU personally did the crime. Someone else could have been driving your car. See Defect # 1 on the Home page.
FAQ # 34: Who are all the camera companies? It looks like alphabet soup!
Answer: They are, in order of national prominence, largest coming first -
ATS (American Traffic Solutions, atsol.com) is headquartered in Arizona, and is privately held. In Sept. 2008 Warren Buffett, owner of many businesses including Geico (known to have donated radar guns to the police), See's Candies, Benjamin Moore Paints, Ben Bridge Jewelers, Fruit of the Loom, Helzberg Diamonds and Johns Manville, invested $5 billion in Goldman-Sachs which, later that month, invested $58 million in ATS, for a 1/3 share.
The Sept. 2009 articles about ATS' purchase of rival Nestor indicated that before purchasing Nestor, ATS had contracts with 170 communities in 17 states. Among the Nestor customers ATS inherited was the City of Santa Maria; on Nov. 24, 2009 the City announced that ATS had - "...against the City's wishes..." - terminated the contract, and would be removing the cameras within 30 days. As of July 2012 ATS had contracts with these California cities: Capitola, Cathedral City, Cerritos, Covina, Davis, Millbrae, Murrieta (suspended in Dec. 2012 pending outcome of lawsuit), San Bernardino (in bankruptcy, program closed in Dec. 2012), San Diego (closed by mayor in Feb. 2013), San Juan Capistrano (program closed in Sep. 2012), and South San Francisco.
In May 2011 ATS was in the news twice, once because of its heavy-handed use of Astroturf lobbying, which led to the suspension of one of its vice presidents. Then, that same month it fired another VP and filed suit against him for (allegedly) "diverting opportunities away from ATS," while working for ATS. Article. In 2012 ATS was in the news again as the company was suspected of funding a lawsuit, fronted by a Murrieta resident, to force an anti-camera initiative off that City's Nov. 2012 ballot.
ATS has a lot of lawyers, and they are top notch, smart, aggressive. Any city council considering signing a contract with ATS should ask itself: "Do we feel lucky? Is our city attorney as smart as their attorneys? Does our guy understand these contracts as well as they do? Will they sue us like they are suing those other cities?" For more reading about ATS and its lawyers, see the Murrieta and San Bernardino Documents pages here at highwayrobbery.net, and also Google ATS and Houston, Texas and Bellingham, Washington.
In June 2012 it was reported that thieves have been stealing components of ATS' camera systems.
RedFlex Traffic Systems, Inc. (Redflex.com) is an Australian company traded on the Australian stock exchange as RDF.AX. In early 2011 shareholders rejected a $304 million purchase offer from the Carlyle Group and the Macquarie Group. RedFlex' US operation is headquartered in Arizona. RedFlex operates the majority of the camera systems in California.
In 2010 RedFlex filed suit against Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, after the Parish suspended its camera program just two years into a five-year contract. A July 22, 2012 Times-Picayune article said that the lawsuit is continuing and RedFlex wants $7.3 million from the Parish.
In Oct. 2012 the Chicago Tribune revealed that RedFlex had paid the $910 hotel bill of a City of Chicago official. The City reacted by disqualifying RedFlex from bidding to install and operate a proposed speed camera system.
Then, in Feb. 2013, a new investigation revealed that the (allegedly) illegal payments were much more extensive - as much as $2 million. RedFlex fired the vice president associated with the (allegedly) illegal payments. The City disqualified RedFlex from bidding to renew its existing contract running Chicago's 384 red light cameras. The disqualifications caused RedFlex stock to lose over half of its value and its Market Cap to drop to $88 million (less than 1/3 of the $304 million 2011 purchase offer).
In late February, President Karen Finley and two more top officers of the US operation resigned.
The (alleged) corruption may not be limited to Chicago. On page 22 of its half-year financial report issued Mar. 4, 2013, RedFlex warned of the possibility of bribery revelations in other cities:
"Further, the current investigations may identify other instances of similar dealings with the City of Chicago and/or other jurisdictions."
Illustration by CameraFraud.com
In 2001 ACS (Affiliated Computer Services, then listed on the NYSE as ACS) purchased the red light camera systems then operated by Lockheed. In early 2010 Xerox bought ACS for $6.4 billion. The new (formal) name is Xerox State and Local Solutions, but we will refer to them as Xerox/ACS, or just ACS. The red light camera section of their website is at http://www.acs-inc.com/public-safety-services/photo-enforcement-program.aspx. ACS is also discussed in Defect # 5 on the Home page. ACS has contracts with the Los Angeles MTA/Metro (cameras adjacent to busways and light rail lines) and the cities of San Francisco and West Hollywood.
Nestor and Transol
Nestor Traffic Systems (nestor.com), of Providence, RI, was taken over by a court-appointed receiver in June 2009, and then in Sept. 2009 was purchased by ATS, for $7.1 million cash. The articles about the sale said that at the time of the sale, Nestor had contracts with about 25 municipalities in nine states. The Providence Journal reported that the other bidders for Nestor were the Nestor management team, called B2H3, and RedSpeed USA (not related to RedFlex).
TranSol (Transportation Solutions) was acquired by Nestor in Aug. 2005.
Info Overload: Reseda Blvd. crossing Oxnard Street, the Orange Line Busway, a bike path, and Topham Street - all in 200 feet - site of a camera operated by the LA County Metro/MTA
(The Orange Line has many similarly crowded crossings.)
FAQ # 35: What are the most common camera locations?
Answer: Most camera tickets go to visitors to town (see Geographic Profiling, in FAQ # 22). Be on guard when visiting regional draws such as CostCo's, other big box stores, auto malls (don't buy a
car in a camera town!), colleges and universities, stadiums, airports, convention centers, medical centers,
museums and historical sites, amusement parks, and race
tracks (see the Inglewood section). The cameras will be concentrated on the route from the freeway to the draw, and back - sometimes right at the foot of the freeway ramp.
Cameras often will be on right turns and left turns, as there aren't enough "straight through" violations to make cameras pay. An increasingly popular location for enforcement is the turns to get on or off the freeway.
Cameras are more likely at unusual, complicated, or confusing intersections - where there is what engineers call "high information load" - your attention is divided between looking at the signal and figuring out the intersection. Examples would be where the roads come together in a "T" or a "Y," or on a curve in the road, or where a freeway offramp is merging onto the road, or where there's several signals in a row, close together. There often will be a lot of pavement markings and official signs adding to the distraction.
FAQ # 36: Will the officer who signed my ticket be the one who appears at my trial?
Answer: Not necessarily. It may not need to be the same officer. In fact, it might not need to be a sworn officer - it can be a clerk! (And in some cities, it may have been a clerk, not a sworn officer, who issued the ticket in the first place!)
From a 2001 ruling in the famous case that shut down San Diego's first red light camera system:
"Penal Code Section 960 provides that "no accusatory pleading is insufficient, nor can the trial, judgment, or other proceedings thereon be affected by reason of a defect or imperfection in matter of form which does not prejudice a substantial right of the defendant upon the merits." This section saves the defects relating to Penal Code section 959.1. The information presented at trial remains the same whether the accusatory pleading is sworn or not. The defendant has the opportunity at trial to respond to the evidence, and the police officer who testifies may not be the same police officer who reviewed the citation. In effect, the police officer who testifies at trial is testifying as an expert witness and interprets the factual data which is evidenced by the photographs and the digital information imposed on the photograph. Therefore, there is no prejudice to a substantial right of the defendants on the merits and any defect and failure to comply with Penal Code section 959.1 does not justify dismissal."
From Section III(C) of the Aug. 15, 2001 ruling in People vs. John Allen.
The P. v. John Allen ruling is far from the last word, though. Recently, in 2009 and 2011, we have seen US Supreme Court decisions arguing that it is a violation of one's right to confront your accusers when the people who make the evidence against you aren't actually in court to be cross examined. See Defect # 10 - D.
In a few cities, the tickets are issued and signed by a clerk, although it will usually be a sworn officer who comes to court for trial. CVC 40518 allows a ticket to be issued by "a peace officer or by a qualified employee." The practice of using clerical staff to approve tickets is controversial, even in the Industry, and until an amendment was to be outlawed by a 2010 bill in the State Senate. (The 2012 "reform" bill, SB 1303, does not outlaw the use of clerical staff. See the 2012 Legislation section on the Action/Legis page.)
In one city, some tickets were signed by an officer who was not even alive at the time! In early 2011 WBAL-TV in Baltimore revealed that 2000 tickets had been signed by an officer who had died in a car accident some months before.
FAQ # 37: I was making a right turn, and the second photo, where I am in the tightest part of the turn, shows the same speed as I was in the first photo, when I was approaching the turn. How can that be?
Answer: RedFlex prints a speed figure on both photos, but the speed printed on the second photo is just a duplicate of the speed
reading made by the pavement loops your car passed
over at the place where the first photo was taken. For some reason they have not programmed their equipment to leave the old speed reading
off the second photo.
Also see FAQs # 4, 15, 27 & 40.
FAQ # 38: Can cameras catch uninsured drivers? I have seen some articles (originating in Chicago) suggesting that. What do you think?
Answer: The red light robots obviously have the ability to take pictures of license plates, but no ability (yet!) to climb down from their poles and capture the suspect before he leaves the area! To catch uninsureds, most cities are using automated number plate recognition equipment installed in a patrol car. That way, when the "ANPR" system identifies an uninsured/unregistered/stolen car, the police in the car can pull the car over - or if it is parked, have it towed. A stationary camera can't do that - it only mails out a letter asking the car owner to come to court - and an uninsured (or a car thief) simply won't show up!
Also see FAQ # 42.
FAQ # 39: I'm from out-of-state. Will this ticket show up on my license?
Answer: Probably, unless you live in Georgia, Massachusetts, Michigan, Tennessee or Wisconsin. Here is an
page about "reciprocal agreements" (or "interstate compacts") for the exchange of info between states.
Plus, the collection agency used by the court will send threatening letters to your home.
FAQ # 40: I got three tickets in one week! What do I do?
Answer: At least once a week I hear from someone who changed their commute route to a street having a camera, and committed multiple rolling right violations by the time the first ticket arrived in the mail.
Some judges will bargain multiple rolling rights down to just one fine, and our legislature has signaled the courts that they want a reduction in the penalty for rolling rights - see AB 909 in the 2010 Legislation section on the Action/Legis page.
To maximize the number of opportunities to get your tickets reduced down to just one, I suggest that before going to court, you should start by talking to the PD - escalating it all the way up to the chief if need be. (Also see FAQ # 41, below.) If that does not work, try a councilmember, or go and speak at a council meeting. Then if that does not work, that would be the time to go to an arraignment and bargain with the judge there, as described above. And if that does not work, go to a trial session and bargain there. Also see the Alternatives box, in the Handling Your Ticket section of the Your Ticket page.
Also see FAQs # 4, 15, 27 & 37.
FAQ # 41: I asked the police to dismiss my ticket, like you told me to. When I phoned them, they told me they cannot dismiss tickets!
Answer: The cop was untruthful about his inability to dismiss. If he has the ability to bring the charges, he has the ability to get them withdrawn. They do it all the time. Yes, technically the cop is not the prosecutor, his role in the matter is just as a witness and as such he should have no authority to dismiss the ticket. But in most traffic courts, the city prosecutor or DA is not present and the cop functions as both the witness, and the prosecutor. So, he has the ability to ask the court to dismiss, "1385," and they do it, regularly.
Penal Code 1385:
(a) The judge or magistrate may, either of his or her own motion or upon the application of the prosecuting attorney,
and in furtherance of justice, order an action to be dismissed.
See also FAQ # 40, above.
FAQ # 42: What about collision avoidance systems, like Marysville installed in late 2011?
Answer: Collision avoidance systems aren't anything new. They've just never caught on, probably because most potential customers identify them as a sales gimmick.
Collision avoidance equipment may possibly protect you from drivers running the light a fraction of a second late (who are little threat anyway), but only at intersections equipped with it. Further, it can do nothing about the impaired or distracted drivers running the red multiple seconds late - and those are the ones who will hurt you.
Don't drop your guard when you're driving in Marysville. Continue to drive, and walk, defensively.
Also see FAQ # 38, the Marysville Documents page, and Baloney from RedFlex, on the Industry PR page.
FAQ # 43: How can I copy and save the photos from the camera company's website?
Answer: Near the right end of the upper row of keys on your keyboard (assuming you have a PC, not a Mac) there is a key that says "Print Screen." Pressing that key saves an image of your entire screen, into your paste buffer (temporary memory). So all you have to do is go to the ticket company's website, get the photos on your screen (blown up as much as you wish), hit Print Screen, then open up your Paint or Photoshop program and paste (Control-V) the screen image as a new image in your Paint/Photoshop program. There is a more detailed explanation in the box on this page.
- 5 -
Letters / Editorials / News / Class Actions
A Note from a Local
Email received Mar. 18, 2003:
Great website! I have lived in Culver City for seven years and it's a mini police state. The density of photo-lights must be around ten times surrounding communities. Every major route into the city has one or more photo lights; why don't they just put up tollgates?
I think our traffic law enforcement by live officers is also 10x more intense than in Los Angeles. Citizen preferences for less or more law enforcement never come up in elections here, implicitly or explicitly, so basically not even the local electorate gets to choose our level of law enforcement, and clearly visitors from other municipalities face taxation without representation.
I got one [Culver City] photo ticket that showed me 0.1 second into the red, but when you really looked at the traffic light in the photo, the yellow was still on. I went to trial but the ticket was dismissed at the beginning of the session so I never got to argue my case. I suspect that questionable tickets are mailed out in hopes that the recipient won't recognize the deficiencies and will simply pay up. But surprisingly I triggered the camera at [a Culver City intersection] without ever receiving a ticket. In that instance traffic was fast and heavy and the light went yellow at the worst possible moment for me. I didn't dare stop behind the intersection for fear of being rear ended, so I ended up a considerable ways into the intersection. Without the camera I would have proceeded and cleared the intersection, but in this case I did not proceed in order to make it clear that I had never intended to run the light. The fact that the car behind me ended up straddling the crosswalk may have been persuasive to the person reviewing evidence, but that was pure luck. I had no way of knowing that the car behind me would actually have trouble stopping, just a hunch that he might.
I suspect automated traffic lights are only one symptom of more fundamental problems with Vehicle Code enforcement which are probably rooted in its potential to subsidize careers and generate revenue.
I think your suggestion that people avoid shopping in Culver City is right on target. It's only sensible to stay away from a town that basically balances its budget on the backs of unfortunate motorists, and there's an excellent chance things will change when the business establishment gets hit in the pocketbook.
[ ] = Edit to protect identity of correspondent.
10-3-03, updated 8-9-09, 7-24-11:
Denial of Traffic School:
On Jul. 1, 2011 a law went into effect making "Second Offender" 12-hour traffic school unavailable for offenses occurring that date or later.
Even when "2TS" was freely available, One local judge almost never granted permission to
attend it. And
during a trial session he said, just after granting "regular" 8-hour traffic school to a
defendant who requested it immediately after the conclusion of the officer's
testimony: "Pretty soon we're gonna stop doing this." Evidently,
he would like to make even regular traffic school harder to get.
Another court formerly sent out a notice* containing the following statement.
In 1976 the appellate court* told traffic judges that their "discretion to grant or deny a request for traffic violator school [does] not encompass a blanket refusal... to all defendants...." So now, instead of telling defendants who have come in for a trial that their chances of being granted traffic school after the trial are zero, or that school is "not an option," some judges tell defendants that their chances are very, very low. Some mean it, some don't!
When the court
denies traffic school to defendants, is the public being served?
argument goes that denial of traffic school reduces court
congestion - knowing that they might lose
their chance to go to traffic school, fewer defendants will take their
ticket all the way to a trial. But the reality is that the court is not even
close to being congested; in the court in which I have observed the most, the
entire trial session typically lasts just over an
hour. Most courts freely allow traffic school, and still get their work done.
An enlightened policy was expressed by one judge pro tem, who
(traffic school) won't be denied just because you asked for a trial -
be discouraging your right to a trial."
One judge denies
traffic school to many defendants
because, he says, they "won't learn
it." Or, because they won't learn anything from "Second Offender"
traffic school, having attended regular traffic school in the past 18
months. How does he know they won't learn anything? The
writer of this editorial believes himself to have an above-average
understanding of driving and the laws, yet he has
learned something each time he has been to traffic school. But
even supposing that a particular traffic school attendee
has a closed mind and learns
nothing else, he will certainly learn that if he runs a signal he
will have to spend 8 or 12 hours in school. For
a wealthy driver, the
loss of those hours of freedom may be the only meaningful punishment he
Just one point on one's
record can cause cancellation of
insurance, or a jump in rates. To remain
insured, a driver has to pay more. For the
non-wealthy majority, that extra
insurance expense can take away from the funds available for
maintenance of the brakes, tires or
engine, exposing everyone to increased air pollution and threat of
accidents. And if the cost of insurance goes up so much that the
driver can't afford it at all, one more uninsured driver is
added to the streets.
To best serve the public, and the economy, judges should freely grant permission to attend traffic school.
For the official rules about traffic school, see California Rules of
4.104 ( alternate link to rules ) and Vehicle Code Sections
41501 (the law that ended the availabililty of 2TS) and 42005. Also see
the discussion of traffic school in the Handling Your Ticket
section of the Your Ticket page, and in
my detailed discussion of the book Fight Your Ticket.
Class Action Suit in California
See this page.
- 6 -
Info About Cameras in Other States
(Including Materials about California, Arizona, Delaware, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Washington DC, Washington State, Canada )
CameraFraud.com is the most active anti-photo radar group in Arizona.
More info about Arizona camera tickets can be found in the Speeding Ticket section on this page (below) and in the Mesa section on the Camera Towns page (includes info about a Sept. 2008 lawsuit against the speed ticketing).
A special note about Arizona: Stay out of Arizona! Apparently the BIG money tourists spend at hotels, restaurants, shops, conventions, golf courses and gas stations is not enough to satisfy the State of Arizona. On Feb. 20, 2009 the AAA auto club's national office designated Arizona as a "strict enforcement area" - the first time that the club has awarded that title to an entire state. The warning will be provided to motorists getting maps or route advice from AAA for travel to or through Arizona.
In Dec. 2005 the Minnesota ACLU filed suit about the Minneapolis red light camera system. In April 2007 the Minnesota Supreme Court
found that the City's system was illegal. There remains the question of refunds for motorists who paid the fines.
In 2008, Cincinnati residents gathered signatures on a referendum to stop the cameras. See their website.
Some Texas cities are using an imaginary limit line for their photo enforcement, with the result that many innocent motorists are
Read about it in this
article: Texas Offenses Require Imagination.
NoCamerasHouston.com is the anti-camera website in Houston.
SaferBaytown.com/ is the anti-camera website in Baytown.
Port Lavaca Citizens Against Red Light Cameras is the anti-camera FaceBook page for Port Lavaca.
Washington State Info
BanCams.com is an anti-photo enforcement group in Washington State. Their website includes, among other things, copies of the contracts between the cities and the camera companies.
Maryland: Judge's Critique of Red Light Cameras
Judge Mathews' report should be mandatory reading for
judges, mayors and police chiefs nationwide.
Here are excerpts from two articles about Judge Mathews and
to Rethink Cameras
top District Court judge says he is suspicious over whether the city is
using red light cameras merely to make the roads safer.
[Balance of 1008-word article is available on washingtontimes.com]
Baltimore Motorists Caught by Red Light Cameras
Baltimore City to Add 60 Additional CamerasBaltimore City has red light cameras at 47 intersections -- that's more than any other jurisdiction in Maryland. WBAL-TV 11 NEWS I-Team reporter Mindy Basara reported that some motorists are questioning whether the cameras are used to prevent accidents, or whether they're for profit.
A May 2003 Report by WBAL-TV11
[This is an excerpt. Balance of article above is available at:
In late 2008 a new anti-camera
website was launched in Maryland.
More News from Maryland
According to this article, at an intersection where a 50-mph expressway ends, Baltimore has a camera with just a 3-second yellow. It will be interesting to find out how many tickets that camera has been generating.
This article found by a reader of this website.
This is an excerpt. The full article can be purchased at: http://www.sunspot.net/search/bal-archive-1990.htmlstory.
City's red-light citation has couple seeing double
Pa. visitors sent 2 tickets from same photograph
By Stephen Kiehl
[Baltimore] Sun Staff
Originally published August 6, 2003
"Robert and Barbara Lippmann couldn't quite believe it when they got a ticket in the mail for running a red light in Baltimore. They didn't remember running any red light when they were in town for an Orioles-Phillies game in June.
"But when the Pennsylvania couple got another ticket in the mail for running the same red light on the same day - six minutes later - they knew something had gone terribly wrong: The photos on the two citations were the same.
"Baltimore's red-light camera program is run by a private vendor, Affiliated Computer Services Inc. [ACS], which also runs cameras in Anne Arundel, Montgomery and Prince George's counties.
"If the Lippmanns did run the light - albeit only once - they may have been tripped up by the short yellow time at President and Fayette streets. Drivers of vehicles coming down the Jones Falls Expressway onto President Street are given three seconds of yellow, according to the city.
"Federal standards suggest that roads with a 50-mph speed limit - the limit on the JFX - provide five seconds of yellow time."
The following decade-old press release is here because the DC city council was the first government body to admit
that the cameras were for revenue, not necessarily safety.
AAA News Release
Million Dollar Camera
On June 12, 2003, CBS Evening News aired a report about a Bethesda Maryland camera that earned $1 million in 14 months because it had a 3.0 second yellow while all other (non-camera) signals on the same street were set at 4.0.
Persua$ion in Pennsylvania
Here are three of the Philadelphia Daily News pieces about ACS, its campaign contributions, and the competition to operate red light cameras in Philly and the State of Pennsylvania.
Part 1. An excerpt is below. Balance of Part 1 available for purchase at: http://www.philly.com/mld/dailynews/news/local/6208078.htm
|Posted on [phillynews.com on] Tue, Jul. 01, 2003
THE BIG PICTURE BEHIND RED-LIGHT CAMERAS
"AN OBSCURE legislative provision engineered by House Speaker John Perzel gives one of his campaign contributors a leg up on running the city's lucrative red-light traffic camera system."
Part 2 includes a chart showing who ACS' contributions went to.
Part 2 also discusses The National Campaign to Stop Red Light Running, which has positioned itself as an influential, "independent" authority on red light cameras but is actually industry-funded. Available for purchase at:
Part 3 of the Daily News' series was this editorial:
|Philadelphia Daily News
July 7, 2003
Section: EDITORIAL OPINION
RED-LIGHT CAMERA BILL NEEDS TO CHANGE TO CLEAR WAY FOR BIDDING
As detailed in a Don Russell story in last week's Daily News, the Harrisburg legislation that will enable Philadelphia to introduce a red-light camera program included a provision stipulating outdated technology. The bill requires the use of the kind of camera only a few companies still use, including ACS, a company that now has contracts with the Parking Authority and which has been a campaign contributor to bill author Rep. John Perzel, as well as to Gov. Rendell and Mayor Street.
Most of the 70 communities that have installed cameras at intersections to nab red-light runners use digital cameras, considered to be more technically advanced than 35 mm, or "wet film." Both have advantages: wet film has better resolution; digital cameras are initially more expensive to install, but in the longer run, they require much lower labor costs. Most vendors have switched to digital; ACS actually offers both.
But did Perzel carefully review these pluses and minuses before inserting the line in the bill requiring only wet-film cameras? No.
Did he have some specialized technical expertise that led him to make that choice? No. His office admits that he has no knowledge of the technology.
So do we believe him when he says that the ACS ties and campaign contributions had nothing to do with the bill's language?
Uh . . . No.
Following Harrisburg's lead, City Councilman Frank Rizzo also included the 35mm stipulation in his Philadelphia bill for the city's red-light program, but is now scrambling to amend the stipulation and just sent letters to Harrisburg lawmakers informing them. Except amending the city's bill won't do any good unless Harrisburg amends its original enabling legislation.
It should go without saying that competitive bidding helps keep everyone honest. But by narrowly restricting the field of companies, Perzel has restricted the possibility of getting the best deal for those public funds he's spending (although no one has any idea how much this pilot program will cost, which makes such controls more important.)
A spokesman in Perzel's office suggested that it stipulated wet film because it was familiar and satisfied with ACS's work for the Parking Authority, and, oh, another thing: the digital companies weren't considered because they weren't out there "telling their story." This is not only depressing - especially if you translate "telling their story" into "hiring expensive lobbyists" like ACS did - but insulting, given that its the bill's language that shuts out those companies from telling their stories, which might be far more compelling than ACS's.
Then again, they might not. But we may never know.
We should know, and we could, if Perzel amended his bill. Which we hope he does immediately so that pros and cons of both kinds of cameras, and vendors, can be fully investigated.
This page has supported red-light cameras but with some reluctance. Our concerns are only getting bigger. For example, we believe the red-light program belongs under police jurisdiction, not the Parking Authority. And that the flow of money, which is now Byzantine, should be streamlined so it goes from the Parking Authority to the city without a stop in Harrisburg.
We don't like what happens when money gets too close to that town. Talk about a speed trap.
Copyright (c) 2003 Philadelphia Daily News
The Matt Labash Investigation, from The Weekly Standard
A very readable, and pretty comprehensive, critique of red light camera systems. Labash starts with a discussion of the cameras near his base of operations - Washington DC - but don't be put off. He ends up covering a wide geographic scope.
Sometimes the Press is Really, Really Sharp...
This illustration, by Sandra Hoover, accompanied an even more critical article published Nov. 25, 2004 by the Sacramento News and Review. The article was worthy of a major daily paper, but didn't get re-printed by any of them.
...and Sometimes It Isn't
This illustration is the only critical part of an otherwise useless Jan. 6, 2005 New York Times article, written by their LA-based columnist who described paying her West Hollywood ticket and obtaining traffic school. The fifth-grade level of the cartoon, and the superficial article, reminded me of Mad Magazine.
- 7 -
Humor (Sort of...)
A policeman's Christmas tree.
On May 28,
2004 I sent the DMV director a question. Ninety-three
days later (they kept misplacing the letter, so I had to
send it three more times) they sent this reply, signed by the
Department's chief counsel. They didn't answer the question, but
included this novel paragraph.
(The excerpt above is published under the "fair use - commentary" exception to the copyright law. The rest of the letter is in the Fake/Snitch Ticket section on the Your Ticket page.)
"A Monterey resident received a notice in the mail of a speed-radar camera* violation from the City of Campbell, near San Jose. The man responded by mailing back a picture of the cash equivalent of the demanded fine. Campbell's police department promptly dispatched a picture of handcuffs, and the subdued scofflaw mailed in a check."
From "Photo Cop" by Tom Lankard, in May/June 1999 "Westways" (Auto Club of So. Cal.)
Speed cameras tickets (also known as photo radar tickets) have never been legal in California. But in 2010 there was another (failed) attempt to
legalize them - see the Legislation section on the Action page.
Campbell doesn't have speed cameras anymore, nor does the City of San Jose, which shut theirs down in March 2007, but in March 2007 a Los Angeles-area parks agency signed a contract to install them in some of the parks they manage - despite Vehicle Code Sec. 21455.6(c) which presently says: "The authorization in Section 21455.5 to use automated enforcement systems does not authorize the use of photo radar for speed enforcement purposes by any jurisdiction." For more info about those LA-area speed cameras, see the MRCA entry on the Camera Towns page.
Even though we got a
*&@#!! ticket, we think we've kept our twisted sense of
humor. So, for your entertainment, somewhere on this website
there is a link to "The Humor Item du Jour." It will change every few
days, and so will its location. Look around.
This traffic light should really be embarrassed !
(For more information about this photo, see Defect # 7.)
Jack Webb: "You're a cop, a flat-foot, a bull, a dick, John Law. You're the fuzz, the heat. You're
poison, you're trouble, you're bad news."
(From Dragnet TV series) -Click here to listen to audio (15kb .wav file)
- 8 -
Info About Speeding Tickets
( Including Info from Inside and Outside of California )
Please note that the materials below - except for Section III of JP's Fight Your Ticket - will not help you with a red light camera ticket.
"Lead Foots" Beware!
Almost every year our Sacramento legislators have tried to change the law to allow more speeding tickets to be issued. In 2005, 2006, 2008, and 2009 they introduced bills to allow the automated issuance of speeding tickets (photo radar). In 2010 the governor included speed cameras in his proposed budget. All five of those attempts were defeated. Despite those defeats, they are trying again in 2011. See the Legislation section on the Action page for more info.
If you got a non-automated California speeding ticket and radar or laser was used, defend by using the Speed Trap Law (Vehicle Code Secs. 40801 - 40805 and 40808). Fight Your Ticket and Help I Got a Ticket (both above) tell you how. Also see this detailed but informal discussion of speed surveys and the Speed Trap Law, published here on highwayrobbery.net .
Also, do a Discovery, and consider making a motion for Change of Venue (see the Challenges page) or requesting a Trial by Declaration.
PhotoRadarLaw.com is an Arizona-based webpage for an affordable book (as low as $12.90 including shipping) on how to deal with photo radar tickets. Even if you are in California, you should have a look, because our legislature keeps trying to bring photo radar here - see the Legislation section on my Action page, and the MRCA section on the Camera Towns page.
If you are in Arizona, be sure to see the Mesa section on the Camera Towns page (includes info about a Sept. 2008 lawsuit against the photo ticketing).
A Letter to the Auto Club of Southern California
Please note that according to their staff, CSAA, the northern California club, does not have a similar ad campaign. Mr. McKernan's phone number is (714) 885-1222. Additional contact info for the Clubs is in the big purple box on the Action page.
August 11, 2005
Mr. Thomas V. McKernan, President and CEO
(Please copy to the Board of Directors and Honorary Directors)
Automobile Club of Southern California
Post Office Box 25001
Santa Ana, California 92799
Re: TV Ad - Obey the Speed Limit
Dear Mr. McKernan:
I am a Club member. Recently, I have seen a TV ad in which you appear and ask viewers always to obey the speed limit.
Every study I have seen says that it is far safer if all cars are moving at similar speeds, regardless of whether they are obeying the speed limit.
The studies echo my own observations - cars moving substantially slower than "the flow" are just as disruptive as cars moving substantially faster.
Your ad, by encouraging some drivers to impede the flow, could make our highways more dangerous.
I would like to be constructive here, so would like to suggest an alternative, that the Club put its resources behind a Lane Courtesy campaign. More Lane Courtesy would do a lot to decrease lane changing, tailgating, and Road Rage.
Very truly yours,
On Aug. 29 the Club replied to my letter:
"In this instance, the reference to "always obey the speed limit" is not intended to be an absolute - we wouldn't endorse holding 65 miles per hour in the left lane of a freeway with traffic backing up behind, or for that matter driving at the speed limit during severe weather - and I believe the viewers understand it that way."
While the Club's letter conceded nothing, I did notice that by the middle of August the "obey the limit" ad had been replaced by one advising motorists to buckle up.
JP's Fight Your Ticket
JP's Fight Your Ticket (not to be confused with David Brown's book - linked above - of the same name) is a California-based free-of-charge website with practical advice for dealing with tickets, including equipment violations. Section III is about red light camera tickets. If JP's drop-down navigation bar doesn't work with your software, the sections can be accessed by clicking on the next-page and previous-page arrows at the bottom of each page.
(JP's Fight Your Ticket is currently hosted on the highwayrobbery.net website, but the content and opinions presented there are solely JP's.)
Speed Trap Exchange
The Speed Trap Exchange is a nationwide list of speed traps - to which to you can add your favorites.
- 9 -
Moving Violations Cited Under Local Ordinance or Municipal Code
(Speeding, Stop Signs, Lane Changes, Truck Route, Etc.)
New: 12-16-09, updated 5-17-11
At one time, some cities (and one county, and one park district) were citing minor moving violations under a local ordinance or muni code
instead of under the California Vehicle Code. (Some may still be doing it.) The tickets carry no points, and with the exception of the $445 fine in Long Beach, carry a much
lower fine than usual.
What is a city's incentive to issue tickets this way? A: If the motorist pays the ticket without contesting it, the locality gets to keep the entire fine, rather than having to give up more than half to the Superior Court system.
Given the financial advantage, why don't all cities do this? A: It is illegal, per Vehicle Code Sec. 21 which says:
Except as otherwise expressly provided, the provisions of this code are applicable and uniform throughout the State and in all counties and municipalities therein, and no local authority shall enact or enforce any ordinance on the matters covered by this code unless expressly authorized herein.
In Sep. 2010 Senate Bill 949 was passed, to stop this practice. For more info about SB 949, see the Action page. If you receive one of these moving violation tickets (speeding, lane change, stop sign, etc.) issued under a section of the local muni code rather than the State Vehicle Code, please contact me.
Here are the localities known to have issued these illegal tickets, and some of the ordinances they cite under:
Alameda County Sheriff: 10.36.020
Long Beach: 10.08.030
MRCA: Stop sign camera tickets (see the MRCA section on the Camera Towns page)
Newman: 10.01.030, 10.01.040, 10.20.010, 10.20.020, 10.02.030, 10.03.010, 10.03.040, 10.03.050
Riverbank: 70.07, 70.08, 75.03, 76.01, 78.01, 78.02
Roseville: 11.06.030, 11.08.030, 11.08.040, 11.12.010, 11.16.090, 11.26.010, 11.28.010, 11.28.020
West Covina: 22-61, 22-143A
Email: For the email address of the editor
of this website, go to the Action page.
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