Russell Hebets May 12, 2016

Traffic camera tickets are increasingly common and leave many wondering what to do about them. They are primarily issued for running red lights and for speeding. Most people pay them but many claim they are illegitimate and shouldn’t be paid. So what is the best approach to handling a citation by mail?

The Basics

First and foremost, it’s a good idea to get to know your neighborhood and where these things happen. Denver and Aurora, as well as other municipalities, openly list the locations of their cameras. Letting you know exactly where to be careful about your driving. They list the schedules for the speed vans and where they will be located as well. As a side note, it is probably a good idea to be careful while driving wherever you are! 

Next, get to know the process. Citations may be dealt with in several ways. You don’t get traffic infraction points for camera ticketed violations, so if you decide to just pay the fine and be done with it, nothing is reported to the DMV. Because these are photo enforced, you may dispute your presence in the photo. Lastly, if you cannot deny that you are the one pictured but you still feel the citation is incorrect, you may, as with all tickets, plead not guilty. In Denver, this is done by going down to the county court traffic division any time before the date on the citation, entering a not guilty plea and receiving a final hearing date.  This final hearing will be before a judge, since you are not entitled to a jury trial on minor traffic infractions.

The Controversy

Citations by mail are controversial primarily because each municipality has its own code on how to handle them. However, state law supersedes these ordinances and state law says that the violation notice must be served within 90 days and must be personally served. This implies that threats to take action beyond 90 days or if you are only served by mail may not be enforceable, which in turn leads to confusion and frustration with how to handle these tickets.

Another oddity about state law and photo enforcement is that only tickets issued for driving 25mph or less are valid, meaning only the least serious offenders may be cited.

So What Do I Do?

When you get a camera citation you have several choices. First you can pay it and be done with it since no points are incurred. Second you may choose to fight the ticket. This may mean disputing who is pictured driving or the clarity of that picture. There are numerous anecdotes of people bringing in their similar looking siblings who could not be distinguished in the photos; or showing that they were simply not the driver pictured and winning their case. Keep in mind that if you disclose the actual driver, that driver can be cited with the violation.  You have no legal obligation to identify the driver.  Lastly, you can ignore them and avoid being personally served for 90 days. Without personal service, your case is dismissed, but be wary of knocks on your door at 6 am. Since so many of these tickets are issued, the odds are likely in your favor.

The city may also threaten your credit saying the bill will be sent to collections. There is a minor risk here, but only if you are personally served. Typically small collections are not pursued to this extreme and can be disputed.  Bear in mind that if you are personally served you may be responsible for the original fee as well as the service fee and late charges.

But Are Traffic Cameras Legal?

Photo enforced tickets have been a unifying issue for legislature who have passed several bipartisan bills that would ban the cameras and required voter approval for their future use. Governor Hickenlooper continues to argue that these bills go too far and that cameras serve public safety; he has vetoed these measures before and is expected to veto the current measure, which was passed in April of this year.

However, the legislature and other opponents feel that traffic cameras are more about increasing city revenue than enforcing safety. In 2014, cities across Colorado made over $14 million collecting these fees. Opponents also voice concerns about living under increased surveillance and the long term consequences of that. The governor did ask the Department of Transportation to review their effectiveness; and local leaders praised his decision as one that respects the rights of municipalities to handle their own enforcement.

For now photo enforced citations remain legal, even if controversial. However, unless you are personally served, you can choose not to pay them.