If You Get A Dreaded Red Light Ticket, Do You Have to Pay?

Many photographed while running red lights in the city of Los Angeles are now saying "cheese" when they see the ubiquitous camera flash. That is because the city council unanimously decided to abandon the red light ticket program, effectively July 31, 2011. Los Angeles is not alone. Nine states and more than a dozen cities, including Houston, TX and Sioux Falls, SD, have canceled their red light camera programs.

The City's decision purportedly made the choice of whether or not to pay such tickets a voluntary one.

So it's time to celebrate? Hooray, hurrah. No more costly tickets for the speedier among us? Not so fast.

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It actually is unclear whether or not those receive the tickets should pay up. News outlets previously reported that the city lacked the ability to penalize those who opted not to pay the fine. But now those who received red light tickets and chose not to pay are getting hefty notices from collection agencies working for the Los Angeles County Superior Court.

The Los Angeles Superior Court has provided little guidance to motorists. The Department of Motor Vehicles, however, is likely none too happy with the Superior Court, which has decided not to compel holds on the driver's licenses and vehicle registrations of those refusing to pay the red light tickets. In sum, if you opt not to pay your ticket, you can still get your driver's license and your vehicle registration, but you might also note from the collection agency.

Let's add one more wrinkle. There were many reports that the red-light program in Los Angeles was canceled. That is true - regardless of the fact that no one knows the consequences of that decision - but only in the city of Los Angeles. Those in surrounding cities in the County are still very much on the hook. Beverly Hills, for instance, has talked of expanding its red-light ticket program.

The program was largely a bust in the City of Angels. Since 2004, less than two-thirds of those who received tickets 2004 paid their fines. It cost the city a pretty penny to try to collect from the more than one-third those ticketed who apparently thought the fines were optional even before the city canceled the program. And actually, the way the law was written, they might have been right.

For now the question remains unanswered. It would be nice of one branch, any branch, of our municipal government could work on giving motorists a clear answer. If there is one thing that unites most Angelenos, it is driving and traffic. Now the consequences of what unites us also befuddles us. So much for getting a clear edict from the government.

Jessica Levinson writes about the intersection of law and government in Los Angeles every week. She is a Visiting Professor at Loyola Law School.

The photo used on this post is by Filckr user gsbrown99. It was used under a Creative Commons License.


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LA is getting better, but there is a bad bill going thru the legislature right now, and no one seems to be writing about it. It is AB 529, and it will allow cities to reduce posted speed limits by 5 mph. The lower posted speed will, in turn, allow them to shorten yellows to produce more red light camera tickets (four of the sponsoring cities have red light cameras). How many more tickets? Since the average "late time" on a red light camera violation is about 0.4 second, the 0.3 or 0.4 second shortening permitted by a 5 mph decrease in the posted limit will increase the number of tickets by at least 50%. Plus, a 0.3 to 0.4 shorter yellow is associated with a 30 - 40% higher rate of severe accidents.

If you are concerned, phone the governor at (916) 445-2841 and ask him to veto AB 529. Or email him using the form found at gov.ca.gov


Any red light camera tickets issued prior to July 31, 2011 are still valid tickets with a California vehicle code violation and need to be handled. LA superior court website says "The City of Los Angeles has decided to end its red light camera program on July 31, 2011. The City's action does not stop the processing of outstanding red-light citations. It does not eliminate penalties associated with red-light citations. It does not constitute grounds for a refund of any money paid on such a citation. Anyone issued a red-light citation must resolve it within the specified time limits or face certain penalties as prescribed by law" At TicketKick, many of our customers are having success contesting their tickets and getting them thrown out with our defenses, and they can rest assured that their ticket won't come haunt them later down the road for not taking care of it.