Red Light Cameras: Are Ticket Fines Voluntary?

Red light tickets are not as enforceable as most motorists think.

ByABC News
July 28, 2011, 4:12 AM

July 28, 2011— -- Tickets from red-light cameras are not as enforceable as most motorists think, and now their high cost and the widespread public backlash against them may be leading to their removal in America's car capital.

As the bright light flashes when a car zips through a red light, most motorists are not really sure if they have been caught, until a ticket shows up in the mail, along with a fine of up to $500. The "gotcha!" cameras have even led some drivers to put a box over their head or even wear a mask to avoid the ticket.

In the city of Los Angeles -- considered to be the driving capital of America -- the fines for these tickets are, unbeknownst to many, voluntary.

City officials in L.A. said that they were shocked to learn that there's no real enforcement of the tickets due to the fact that courts find the cases difficult to prove, as the person receiving the ticket is often not the person driving the car at the time the photo was snapped. The courts have now ruled that violations caught on a photo are unenforceable, since there is no live witness to testify against an alleged offender.

Discovering this has angered those who've shelled out hundreds in fines, leading many to ask if they can have their money back.

"If you paid the fine, you paid the fine. If you didn't pay the fine, you were pretty much able to get away with it," Paul Koretz of the Los Angeles City Council told ABC News.

Approximately 40 percent of ticketed drivers got away with not paying those hefty fines that come with a red light camera ticket -- which is why Los Angeles is dumping the cameras altogether.

"Get rid of 'em … if you can't collect any revenues for them, then what good are they doing for the city? Absolutely none," Los Angeles driver Gregory Adams said.

And the trend to rid cities of the unpopular cameras may go nationwide.

The city of Houston has already banished the cameras, and according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, a total of nine states have banned the red-light cameras. Several others have passed laws limiting the use of camera enforcement.

Getting rid of the cameras will ultimately save the city of Los Angeles around $1million per year. But some are still concerned that without them, there may be more collisions.

On the other side of the debate, a study this year by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety claims that in 14 of America's largest cities the cameras have saved 159 lives during a four-year period. The study also said that if all 99 of the country's largest cities had them installed, 815 lives could have been saved.

Still, some believe they may cause more harm than good when motorists stop short because they are thinking about the camera, causing a rear-end collision.

"If people are stopping short because they are thinking about the camera, that is making things much more dangerous," said Patrick McElroy, a driver in Los Angeles.

Jay Beeber, a Los Angeles resident and anti-red light camera activist, says that most of the tickets are for rolling right turns -- a far less dangerous violation that is just as pricey.

"If they were interested in safety they would have made sure that they enforced the tickets," Beeber said.