Moving violation ticket - shady, but isn't it just easier to just pay?
May 16, 2014 8:55 PM   Subscribe

So, this is frustrating, but do we just have to suck it up? Partner was driving car at night about 15 miles an hour down a poorly lit and deserted intersection in San Francisco and got photographed by a police camera before the reached the crosswalk. They were so surprised, they did not come to a full stop as they made a rolling right turn at that 10-15 mph speed. They then got photographed again and a ticket for $500 for not stopping in the intersection. I do think that the first flash of the photograph is probably a shady trick to do exactly what happened - startle the driver into committing an error, but I'm tempted to just have them pay. They feel like they were ambushed by the bright flash and are scheduled to contest in court. What say you, hive mind - what would you do?

What's annoying is that they were driving at about midnight down a poorly lit street in san francisco, driving slowly at about 15 miles per hour, to try to see the signage. Slowing down to stop at the intersection, the bright flash of the police camera flashes. This is confusing to them because they aren't in the crosswalk.

In their confusion they lean forward, squinting to see the signage and are trying to figure out why they just got photographed. But here is their mistake - rather than come to a full stop, they slowly roll the car into the empty intersection into a right turn, are promptly photographed again, and two weeks later, get a $500 ticket in the mail.

I asked my partner why they didn't stop but slowly rolled into a right turn instead, and they said that they just had a brain freeze as they were trying to figure out why they just got a bright halogen light of the camera flash shone in their face after the darkness of the street, when they so clearly weren't in the crosswalk. They were a little bit blinded, so they just continued to roll slowly forward into the deserted interaction, turned, and tried to find their way out of the neighborhood with obscured signage.

What makes them mad is that they said it felt like an ambush, because the first halogen flashes on before you've even committed an error, and you only have a short time to process that (so if you get startled and hit the gas, or continue in any way from the police light, you then get caught in the second snapshot).

My partner was going to write a letter to contest it, but I convinced him that it might be worth a court date, so he asked for one. But now I'm not so sure if it wasn't better to just go in and just pay the fine, lest we get slammed for more. We have access to legal representation through my job, which I might nudge him to call, but it's just so darn frustrating because it feels like he got tangled in a speed trap.

So, what would you do? Would you suck it up, contact the lawyer, go to court and throw yourself on the mercy of the court? Go to court and try to talk to the police officer beforehand? We're not on the same page about what they should do, so we thought we'd ask the hivemind.
posted by It's a Parasox to Law & Government (16 answers total)
I do think that the first flash of the photograph is probably a shady trick to do exactly what happened

There is absolutely nothing shady going on. This is by design. There are sensors on the road to detect if someone is approaching an intersection well above average speed. These are exactly the people who are going to run the light and the camera begins to record and starts taking pictures as soon as someone trips this sensor. If the camera only triggered after someone ran the light, then it's quite likely that it wont capture a usable picture admissible as evidence of a moving violation. Before your partner was issued the ticket, someone reviewed the entire video and then issued it.

Your partner was most likely going well above 15 mph. Sure you can go to court but it would be a complete waste of your time. It sucks, just pay it and move on. Contacting a lawyer will only increase your out of pocket costs for no reason. Read the ticket closely for a link to the full video of your partner rolling through the sign. This is as open and shut a case as it gets.

PS: I got this ticket last year (turned right at a light with a rolling stop) so I did my research. I was also confused why the flash went off before I reached the intersection but now it all makes sense.
posted by special-k at 9:09 PM on May 16, 2014 [8 favorites]

Dude, everyone admits that the law was broken with regard to stopping, nothing else matters. Additionally, we have to support our partners and all but the 10-15mph claim would go down easier with a little bit of salt applied, I think....
posted by smoke at 9:20 PM on May 16, 2014

Your argument is "something unexpected happened so I got flustered and stopped paying attention and did something illegal and dangerous." This is not an argument that is likely to convince anyone of anything... it's more likely to do the opposite. He did the thing they accuse him of doing, and there is the opposite of extenuating circumstances (the street was too dark). Pay the ticket.
posted by brainmouse at 9:23 PM on May 16, 2014 [11 favorites]

Hi all - that is what I thought. In light of that, does anyone happen to know if we can just contact the court and pay the fine via mail, or do we have to go in now on the actual court date since he actually requested it (and possibly have an additional administrative fee)?
posted by It's a Parasox at 9:37 PM on May 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

if we can just contact the court and pay the fine via mail,

Yep, it's really that simple. And your partner will also have to pay the traffic school fee and spend a few hours attending one online.
posted by special-k at 9:40 PM on May 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yes! Take the online course to remove the points from your license!

Hey, two things....

- If I did not live in a city that banned traffic cameras (LA) I would have those shields for the license plate that render my license unreadable by camera (if legal in your jurisdiction.)

- A bright shiny unexpected should have made your partner stop, not keep rolling.

My husband is this kind of driver. I usually drive when we are together because this sort of thing makes me white hot. But I've been in a lot of accidents (none in ten years , tho!) and I drive so so much more carefully these days.

Last thing...

He maybe can get the ticket reduced if he says the light flash freaked him out and he turned right to avoid heading straight into whatever danger the unexpected light represented to him in the moment... Sometimes tickets get reduced if you are super respectful and have a spotless record ... I know nothing of additional administrative fees, tho, so YMMV on this last part.

Best of luck.
posted by jbenben at 9:56 PM on May 16, 2014

I assume the ticket is for running a light or blowing through a stop sign? And they did not, in fact, stop at the light/sign?

If that's the case, I think you've got to just pay the ticket. They don't really care why you ran the light, just that you did it.

I once had a "brain freeze" behind the wheel that resulted in an accident that landed me in the hospital with a head injury. To this day I'm thankful that the other driver and the passenger in my own car weren't hurt. Whoopsie isn't an excuse.
posted by Sara C. at 11:49 PM on May 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Standard disclosure about not being a lawyer and all…

I thought due process and all required them to actually establish the /identity/of the driver. You can't convict a car right?
posted by chinabound at 6:28 AM on May 17, 2014

I'd pay it and move on.
Sucks, but there may be a small comfort re: points on license. Where I live the powers that be faced widespread complaints/protests over the cameras -- which they defused with a compromise. To wit: such tickets don't add points. And there's some indication on the interwebs that California may have a similar situation. Call em and ask.
It's not a small thing. Points can be a lot more expensive over the long run (insurance rates) than a one-time fine.
posted by LonnieK at 7:14 AM on May 17, 2014

Standard disclosure about not being a lawyer and all…

I thought due process and all required them to actually establish the /identity/of the driver. You can't convict a car right?

I'm not a fan of traffic cameras, but the pictures usually get a clear image of the driver. That's another reason for the "anticipatory" picture when a car rolls into the target area in a way that often correlates with a violation.

I'm also 'team pay the ticket/do traffic school." At 15 miles a hour you can stop a modern car in a few feet if you're startled by something. A surprising event, like a bright flash, should cause you to come to a complete stop, or drastic slowdown if you're on a highway with people following, not "keep going to see what that was." Your friend is not likely telling the whole story.
posted by randomkeystrike at 9:03 AM on May 17, 2014

Here in Chicago the tickets come with a link to view the recording online. I'm not sure if it is the same there but at least try.

My experience with these cameras in chicago is either they are broken and flash all nilly willy and sometimes false tickets get issued. Otherwise here they don't flash until the law has been broken.

If the video shows him making a rolling right turn on red or at a stop sign it happened. No amount of excuses is going to get the ticket reduced. Pay the fine. As noted above camera tickets in Chicago do not remove points from your license.
posted by AlexiaSky at 10:28 AM on May 17, 2014

Also the light flashes behind you not in front of you here. So the light messing with his eyes not so much a possibility.
posted by AlexiaSky at 10:30 AM on May 17, 2014

Driving a motor vehicle requires constant awareness of ever-changing circumstances. A camera flash could instead be another car flashing its headlights, a flash of lightning in the sky, or dissimilar events such as a vehicle turning without signaling, a bicycle making a sudden unexpected move, or a sudden siren starting up. Trying to argue that a camera flash distracted a driver into making an illegal maneuver is questionable at best.
posted by germdisco at 3:46 PM on May 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Go for the court date. You never know. Ask the clerk there's any lesser charge you can plead to.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:28 AM on May 18, 2014

something similar happened to me - I was approaching a turning red light (admittedly faster than I should have), the flash came from behind and startled the hell out of me, I determined that my safest course of action (since the intersection was empty) was to go through the intersection and turn right.

I got a ticket for running the light, and when I went to contest it, the guy in charge said "ok, we're going to find you guilty."
posted by Lucinda at 11:48 AM on May 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Standard disclosure about not being a lawyer and all…

I thought due process and all required them to actually establish the /identity/of the driver. You can't convict a car right?

In CA, they do need to identify and issue the ticket to the driver. The camera may get a picture of the driver, but the ticket is often issued to the owner of the car, who may not be the same person. This can be the basis for contesting a ticket. Since your partner was driving the car, perhaps this mistaken identity defense could apply to you.

IANAL but I successfully helped someone with this defense in San Mateo County. The ticket was issued automatically by Millbrae's camera system to someone of the wrong gender. We contested the ticket via a Trial by Declaration, which is basically a trial by mail: you submit your statement while the police submit theirs, then the judge decides who wins. Our statement was basically "I was not the driver of the vehicle, as you can see from the attached exhibits"; the exhibits were a scan of the owner's ID plus an enlargement of the picture of the driver from the traffic camera that obviously did not match the ID.

I found Fight Your Ticket and Win in CA to be useful. Make sure you get the CA-specific version as there's a national version as well., while ugly and hard to navigate, did provide useful information to help judge whether or not to contest the camera ticket and how to do so (including by mail, if necessary). Evaluate the information you find there properly; some of the strategies there for fighting your ticket seemed to be long shots for me, possibly borne of the site's clear anti-camera bias.
posted by melvinwang at 12:15 PM on May 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

« Older What very obscure English words are actually very...   |   I know I'm not a supermodel, but COME ON Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.