Red Light Camera Tickets

How red light cameras work and where they are permitted.

Many traffic signals use sensors and cameras to detect when a vehicle is approaching and when to change from red to green. Sometimes, these types of technologies are also used to detect and record when drivers run through a red light. Many cities and states are using cameras to issue red light tickets. However, some jurisdictions still prohibit traffic camera tickets. Here are some of the basics about when and how cameras can be used to issue tickets for red light violations.

How Red Light Traffic Cameras Work

Stop light cameras are generally affixed to the traffic light or traffic light pole. Typically, red light cameras are fairly large and visible.

Sensors in the pavement, which can pinpoint a vehicle's location, work in conjunction with the cameras. While the traffic light is red, the camera will activate if a vehicle crosses the stop line or into the crosswalk. The camera will take pictures (or video) of the offending vehicle and transmit it to the local law enforcement (or some other government agency) for processing.

Red light camera tickets aren't issued automatically. An officer will generally review the images or footage and determine whether to issue a citation. If the officer finds the driver committed a violation, he or she will use the vehicle's license plate to identify the registered owner. The citation will be mailed to the registered owner's listed address.

Where Red Light Cameras are Located

Red light cameras are most often seen in high-traffic areas where violations or collisions are common. In many jurisdictions, signs are posted at all intersections equipped with red light cameras. These signs are intended to notify drivers that red light cameras are in use.

Laws Limiting the Use of Red Light Cameras

The laws of some states allow traffic cameras only in work zones or near schools. Other states have passed laws outright prohibiting the use of traffic camera citations.

Options for Dealing with a Red Light Camera Ticket

Your options for handling a traffic camera violation depend on the circumstances, including the laws of your state and the type of notice you receive in the mail.

Types of notices. A red light violation notice might come in the form of a warning, request for information, or citation. Here are the basics about these three types of notices:

  • Warnings. A red light violation warning informs the driver of the offense but usually does not require any additional actions. Generally, drivers receive only one warning. Future violations will typically result in actual citations.
  • Requests for information. In some jurisdictions, the officer reviewing a red light camera violation has the option of sending the registered owner a "request for information." Officers might do this when they aren't able to identify who is driving the vehicle. In a request for information, the officer is basically asking the registered owner to provide the identity of the driver. A request for information generally isn't like a formal summons and the owner typically isn't required to comply with the request.
  • Red light citations. In most cases, where a driver gets caught by a traffic camera running a light, the officer will issue a citation. Generally, a red light camera citation requires the driver to either pay the fine or appear in court at a specified time. In some states, the driver also has the option of disputing the ticket by mail or through electronic submission.

Fighting a red light Camera Ticket. The defenses available for disputing a red light camera ticket depend on the laws of your state and the specifics of your situation. If you choose to dispute the citation, your options might include:

  • Denying you were the driver. The laws of many states provide registered owners with options for disputing that they were the driver of the vehicle when the violation occurred. In some states, the registered owner can mail in a signed declaration merely stating that he or she was not the driver. If the owner does so, the ticket will generally be dismissed (unless the owner can be clearly identified in the photograph). However, in some jurisdictions, the registered owner will be liable for the violation, regardless of who was actually driving.
  • Arguing based on a legal technicality. In traffic ticket trials, courts have generally found that red light camera images and videos are admissible as evidence. A traffic camera image with a clear view identifying the driver could be difficult to beat in court. However, states that do permit the use of red light cameras often have strict regulations governing their use (such as having signage requirements). An experienced attorney can help assess your options and identify possible defenses.

Traffic school options. Many jurisdictions have a traffic school option for drivers who receive a citation. By completing traffic school, the driver might be able to avoid some or all of the consequences of a red light ticket.

Penalties for Red Light Camera Tickets

Fines for camera tickets are often similar to standard traffic tickets. But in many jurisdictions, the fines for camera citations are less than those for officer-issued tickets. Also, the laws of many states don't allow the DMV to assign demerit points for violations that are issued by means of red light cameras.