Traffic light camera laws

Updated March 23, 2017

Increasingly, cities are installing cameras at intersections where drivers are known to run red lights, speed or drive erratically. In most cases, the cameras are used as enforcement against red light runners. A photograph is taken the moment a car activates a sensor in the intersection when a red light is present. The car's number plate is then traced, and a ticket is mailed to the address listed on the vehicle's registration. Because on-site police are not needed, this process can save a municipality a considerable amount of money.


When a photograph is taken of a car breaking the law, such as running a red light or speeding through an intersection, the vehicle owner must be notified in a timely manner, typically within three weeks of the offence. In some cases the ticket may not be received by the owner because of a mailing error such as the car being registered at one address but the owner living at another. Nonetheless, local governments assume that the driver has received the ticket, and drivers typically have 30 to 45 days to respond by either pleading guilty and paying the fine, or pleading not guilty and going to traffic court.

Driver's Responsibility to Respond

If a driver does not respond to the ticket because he or she never received it, forgot about it or ignored it, severe penalties and fines can result, including an arrest warrant being issued. Drivers are given a specific period to respond to the ticket, typically 30 to 45 days. If a driver receives a ticket more than three months after the alleged offence, he or she can fight the ticket in traffic court by saying the notification came too late.

Identifying the Driver

A sticky point in camera ticketing is identifying the driver. Some municipalities capture only a photo of the number plate, while others photograph the entire vehicle, including the driver. If the owner of the car was not driving the vehicle at the time, it is often the driver's responsibility to forward the ticket to the person who was. However, since the vehicle is registered in his or her name, the owner ultimately can be held responsible for the fine.

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About the Author

Lauren Farrelly has been writing and producing for television since 2003. She has experience covering sports, business news and general news events for CNBC, ESPN and Bleacher Report. Farrelly has a BA in broadcast journalism from Arizona State University.