August 17, 2013 • By Dennis Beaver
Our recent column on red light and speed camera tickets opened the flood gates to dozens of emails and phone calls from across the country — frustrated, angry drivers who received these tickets in the mail, wanting to know what to do.
Readers were especially upset when the photo accompanying the citation showed someone else — often the opposite sex — driving their car!
A retired mechanical engineer has studied the phenomenon of red light cameras for over 10 years and now edits a terrific website, www.highwayrobbery.net, offering advice about red light camera tickets, with a page about each city in California which has a red light camera.
He shared his insights into this “moneymaking rip-off of drivers across America.” Wanting to remain anonymous, we will simply call him “HR.”
“When the police are processing a red light camera ticket and see that they have no way to prove who was really driving, they often send the registered owner a fake ticket, which I call a snitch ticket — to trick them into revealing who the driver was.
“These snitch tickets are easy to spot if you know what to look for. So you get a ticket with no court name and address on it and the heading, ‘This is Not a Ticket,’ that is a snitch ticket, and you do not have to do a thing. There is no legal obligation to reply to a snitch ticket, or to reveal who was driving,” HR points out, and he is legally correct.
“But real tickets, which you should never ignore, also include a form where you can write in the name of the actual driver. Often there is enormous pressure from police, court clerks and even some judges to reveal the driver’s identity, and again you do not have to!”
Tip-off that something different was going on
“It all began when I got a real red light camera ticket, about 10 years ago,” HR told us.
“I had fought many traffic tickets, but this time at the courthouse, something was odd. The crowd was mostly middle age, more like me, not many younger drivers, a tip-off that something different was going on. People who rarely would fight a ticket suddenly were coming to court. I wondered why this was happening.
“After spending hours listening and observing, repeatedly I saw that people who were not even driving the car received a traffic citation, shocking for an age group who respects our police. But that respect was diminishing when the game became clear.
“I had encountered the business model of red light camera tickets,” HR explained.
It was an interesting application of the term to traffic tickets, and his reason for describing them as “corrupt and dishonest” becomes clear when he asked:
“Where does law enforcement typically locate these cameras? In poor parts of town?
“No, they put them in areas frequented by visitors, near regional attractions, shopping malls, big-box stores, where people have a credit card — where they have money. With a price tag of close to $500 per ticket, cameras are moneymakers and can generate a small fortune for a city.
“You cannot write 80 zillion tickets and make it so that people have to come to court, or you would need to build a lot of courthouses. But your town wins the lottery by giving tickets to people who mostly are disinclined to fight because they are older or cannot risk getting a point on their record for insurance reasons.
“So, just send out the tickets by mail and people will log or phone in and pay the ticket with a credit card. What a business!” he concluded.
Police procedure leads to snitch tickets
Southern California-based traffic defense attorney Paul Denni describes what the police should do when reviewing red light camera videos:
“They need to match the driver’s DMV with the car’s license. If it matches, then the ticket is approved and a court name, address and case number will appear on the citation you receive.
But if there is no match — say, the car is registered to a man, but a woman is photographed driving — they should not issue a ticket. Sometimes the traffic officer will look at DMV records of occupants of the registered owner’s home, to see if a relative is driving, and if so, will often issue the ticket to that person.
“Unfortunately, it is true that some police departments in a hunt for revenue will send out real tickets, even if they cannot find a match,” Denni observes.
HR’s website is a worthwhile first step in becoming familiar with red light camera citations.
But it is not a replacement for speaking with a traffic defense attorney if there is any question that you are about to ignore a real ticket.
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.