One Second of Red Light Camera Flash = 1 Month of Worrying
November 3, 2013 12:24 AM   Subscribe

Could a red light camera flash lead to an unregistered vehicle ticket due to just-expired out-of-state plates?

I got snapped by a red light camera last week. I probably crossed the white line a bit because I just didn't stop in time. So the camera flashed, and so I may get a ticket, but my situation is more complex.

See I had just moved to Rhode Island last month, and still have out-of-state plates because Rhode Island registration requires inspections and a title transfer before you can register. To compound this, I just found out my original registration expired one day before the red light camera photo rather than at the end of the month as I originally thought!

Now I'm worried because I imagine they will contact the state I came from, and ask for my address, and they will find out I'm unregistered, and give me an additional more serious ticket. They'll mail them to my address on file in my previous state which will not reach me. So I could end up with multiple tickets including an unregistered car ticket and I have no way of knowing.

Is any of my concern misplaced? And is there anything I can do about this? I'm usually really good at not getting in trouble, but it's just moving across the country and everything that has me disorganized. I'm feeling like a mess now and stress out just thinking about driving anywhere now.
posted by tasty to Law & Government (8 answers total)
Remember to breathe. Even if you get multiple tickets, they're not going to come find you and take your car away. I think you're more worried than you should be about driving again.

Are you actually worried about the ticket itself? Because it seems like you're more worried about the idea of not knowing your status, and if that's so, you can just call your local police (or the police in the town where the red light was located), explain what happened, and ask about your situation. At the very least, you should be able to provide them with an updated address.

I don't know anything about Rhode Island, but in many states an actual cop has to review the photos before issuing tickets, so it's possible that upon seeing that you actually did stop (I presume that's what you mean in your comment about 'the white line') that this could all turn out to be nothing, according to the cops' discretion.

Call and ask. If you have end up with one or more tickets, it'd better to know now than later.
posted by FreelanceBureaucrat at 12:54 AM on November 3, 2013

I'm not sure if this is true everywhere, so you may have to look into it, but hopefully it does apply:

Everywhere I've lived (multiple states), localities contracted private companies to buy, hook up, and operate those red light cameras. Then those localities passed regulations banning the cameras because they were found to encourage dangerous driving. So then, the camera photos could no longer be used as evidence to issue tickets with the force of law behind them. The contractors spent so much money getting those cameras up and running, though, that they weren't just going to take them down. So the cameras are still up taking photos, and contractors still send out "tickets" (really just notifications) hoping you'll send them a check, but you don't actually have to pay those "tickets" and they have no connection to any government.

So, if I were you I would look to see if your state, county, city, or any other way you define your locality has a regulation against red light cameras -- because a regulation wouldn't mean that the cameras are necessarily gone, but it would mean you don't have to worry about any government getting some kind of link up with that information (and that you shouldn't pay any "ticket"/notification that you do get).

For what it's worth, even if red light cameras are used to issue valid tickets where you live, I would bet on the process being automated. Automation/conservation of manpower is the whole point of using cameras instead of police officers, I would think. So I doubt some human eye is ever going to be looking at your picture closely enough to spot your registration dates, let alone taking the time to draw up tickets based on it.

I get why this is freaking you out, but honestly, police officers have tons of actual crime to worry about. If you're this worried about an honest mistake over getting the dates wrong and sort of running a red light, I have a hard time believing that you'd be a blip on their radar. Watch a few episodes of The Wire and get your registration straightened out with the DMV, and I promise you'll feel better.
posted by rue72 at 1:43 AM on November 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Very likely, this won't be something that will catch up with you until you register your car, as your old state, unless you told them, has no idea where you moved.

Depending on your old state, that information might not even be shared, as all the DMV/RMV systems in the country aren't fully connected. So, you might not ever get anything as long as you are in RI, but if you go back to your old state, or a state that shares information with them, you'll have a bill you'll need to pay. This happened to my mom with excise taxes in CT. The bill didn't catch up with her until about 5 years later when she moved to NJ after living in another state in between times.

And, was it the one on Chalkstone in Providence? When I was living there a few years ago, there were rumors going around that the city had fewer cameras than holders and they moved them around, as the cameras were the expensive part. So, who knows. Maybe the photo wasn't even really taken.
posted by chiefthe at 2:22 AM on November 3, 2013

According to this, RI does not have red light running cameras. Maybe the county/city/town does...

If you're still worried, get your car registered is RI ASAP. They will likely know if they've issued tickets against your registration. Do it now, before any tickets become past due.
posted by jshort at 3:46 AM on November 3, 2013

States generally do not enforce lack of registration from other states. Go register your car in RI now. Set up a forwarding mail address from your old registration address to your new address now so that on the off chance people try to contact you there, the mail will reach you. Make sure that your insurance is current (in some states having expired registration automatically voids your insurance which would be a more serious issue if you are continuing to drive). Just go through the steps, now that you know what they are. In many cases, getting dinged for expired registration can be dealt with by just getting the car registered. You will, most likely, be fine.
posted by jessamyn at 7:54 AM on November 3, 2013

I did check online and while the RI page jshort pointed to says the state doesn't have red light cameras, the city of Providence does and the intersection I went through is one listed on this map . My reading of some online articles said that a private company manages the cameras (ACS) and they are also reviewed by a police officer. So I imagine the tickets are valid.

I will be going to register my car in RI very soon of course. I tried to change my address with my previous state but the online system only allows me to change it to an address in their state.

In my mind, the lack of registration would be in RI because the previous one had just expired and I was driving in RI. So technically they could issue a "didn't register within 30 days of moving here" ticket and a "unregistered car driving in RI" ticket, in addition to the red light ticket. Argh.
posted by tasty at 8:30 AM on November 3, 2013

I guess the usage might vary from state to state (except there's already been legal battles over this in numerous states, so there's precedent), but my understanding is that something like 80% of red light camera captures are tossed because they do not fulfill their specific criteria: taking a clear photograph of a driver actually running a red light.

It is almost unfeasible that a human being will ever even look at this photo - if one was even taken in the first place, of you - because the software is going to bin it, and if they did it is additionally almost unfeasible that they will notice your registration, and if they did it is very unlikely that they are allowed to use that evidence to do anything to you. Any other use of those cameras, unless they happen to catch an accident as it happens, is going to have traffic lawyers lined up at the courthouse, laughing.

If the entire state of Rhode Island literally has nothing else to do but go on a multiple-state manhunt for an unregistered car from another state (they don't care about unregistered cars from another state, registering your car in that state does not make them any money), I would suggest your car be registered when they get there and then there's not really anything they can do. The day you officially moved to RI is basically whatever day you say it is.

You are catastrophizing. Go get your car registered. The absolute worst that'll happen to you is you'll spend a couple of tedious hours waiting to show your proof of registration to have a ticket (that is almost astronomically unlikely to ever be issued based on a red-light camera, but you could certain get one today from an actual cop) dismissed. You will not be executed on the courthouse lawn.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:45 AM on November 3, 2013

I tried to change my address with my previous state but the online system only allows me to change it to an address in their state.

Change it with the post office so if anyone tries to mail you at your old address, it will get forwarded to you. This was one of your concerns in your question.

In my mind, the lack of registration would be in RI because the previous one had just expired and I was driving in RI. So technically they could issue a "didn't register within 30 days of moving here" ticket and a "unregistered car driving in RI" ticket, in addition to the red light ticket. Argh.

They don't know you've moved here. You are just an unregistered driver from another state which Rhode Island barely cares about. Just chill out and get your car registered and drive it as little as possible until you do.
posted by jessamyn at 9:38 PM on November 3, 2013

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