Getting a red light camera ticket in the mail can be annoying and frustrating. You may wonder if you really ran the red light or if the camera made a mistake. And even if you did run the red light, do you actually have to pay the fine? Here’s what you need to know about red light camera tickets in California.
What are red light cameras?
Red light cameras are automated ticketing systems installed at some intersections in California. They use sensors to detect when a vehicle enters an intersection after the traffic light has turned red. Cameras capture images of the vehicle and its license plate. The registered owner of the vehicle is then mailed a citation with instructions on how to pay the fine or contest the ticket.
Are red light camera tickets enforceable in California?
Yes, red light camera tickets are enforceable in California. Running a red light is a traffic violation under the California Vehicle Code. Just like any other traffic ticket, you are legally required to pay a red light camera citation or contest it in court.
What happens if I don’t pay a red light camera ticket?
If you fail to pay a red light camera ticket or contest it in court, the fine will increase over time as late fees are added. The citation will be turned over to a collection agency after 90 days of nonpayment. This can negatively impact your credit score. After multiple notices, the DMV may place a hold on renewing your vehicle registration until the ticket is paid.
How much are red light camera tickets in California?
Red light camera ticket fines vary by city and county across California. Here are some examples of base fine amounts:
- Los Angeles County – $490
- San Francisco – $485
- Sacramento – $480
- San Diego – $500
On top of the base fine, you’ll also have to pay fees which typically add around $100 to the total cost. Late payment penalties and traffic school fees can further increase the amount owed.
Can I contest a red light camera ticket?
Yes, you have the right to contest a red light camera citation in court. The process varies slightly by jurisdiction, but generally you’ll need to submit a written request for a hearing or trial within 30 days of receiving the ticket. At the hearing, you can present evidence, cross-examine witnesses, and argue why you should not be found responsible for the violation.
Some common defenses against red light camera tickets include:
- You were not the driver – If someone else was driving your car, they are responsible
- The light was yellow when you entered – Cameras cannot always differentiate yellow vs. red
- The camera malfunctioned – Faulty equipment could lead to improper tickets
- The ticket lacks key evidence – Blurry photos or missing data could weaken the citation
If the judge rules in your favor, you will not have to pay the ticket. However, if you are found responsible, you’ll need to pay the fine or face further penalties.
Should I hire a lawyer for a red light camera ticket?
You don’t need to hire a lawyer to contest a red light camera citation. The process takes place through administrative hearings, not criminal court. But an experienced traffic ticket attorney can help give you the best chance of beating your ticket. A lawyer may be able to get the citation dismissed based on technicalities or weakness in the evidence that you would not know to raise yourself.
Can I go to traffic school for a red light camera ticket?
Yes, you may be able to attend traffic school for a red light camera ticket in California. This allows you to avoid getting a point on your DMV record. Each city handles traffic school eligibility differently:
- Los Angeles – Allowed for first red light camera ticket
- San Francisco – Generally not allowed
- San Diego – Allowed once every 18 months
You will still need to pay the fine and traffic school tuition if you choose this option. Contact your local courthouse to ask about traffic school availability.
Will a red light camera ticket raise my insurance rates?
Getting a red light camera ticket will not directly cause your insurance rates to go up in California. This is because red light camera citations are treated as civil violations, not moving violations that count as points on your DMV record. However, being found responsible for causing an accident that resulted from running a red light could lead to increased insurance costs down the road.
How can I reduce my chances of getting a red light camera ticket?
To reduce your chances of receiving a costly red light camera citation, follow these safe driving tips:
- Slow down and be prepared to stop as you approach intersections
- Do not try to “beat” a yellow light – stop if it is unsafe to proceed
- Watch the traffic signal, not just the car in front of you
- Check for red light cameras and signs indicating their use
- Maintain your vehicle and replace old brakes to allow for safe stops
- Avoid distractions when driving like cell phones and loud music
Running a red light is illegal and dangerous to yourself and others on the road. While an automated ticket in the mail may seem impersonal, red light camera citations in California are enforceable just like any other traffic violation. If you receive a red light camera ticket, you should thoughtfully consider whether to pay the fine or contest it. An experienced traffic attorney can help advise you on the best course of action.