Q. Last week, I was in the process of turning on a green turn signal when it quickly changed to yellow and then red. Before I was completely through the intersection, I noticed camera flashes that caught all three cars in the intersection (myself, and the cars ahead of and behind me). I am at a loss as to how I could have prevented this because the yellow light duration was much too short for me to safely stop, and I had already crossed into the intersection before the light changed to yellow. What recourse do I have for fighting a red light ticket if there’s a camera involved?
A. Contrary to popular belief, it may be possible to successfully contest a citation issued for a red light camera violation under certain conditions. Nolo Press, a publisher of popular self-help legal books, has a very helpful book called “Fight Your Ticket and Win in California” which includes information on this scenario. According to page 263, “[if] the duration of the yellow light preceding the red light was too short, the case may be dismissed. Under VC § 21455.7, yellow light durations must be in accordance with California Department of Transportation (CalTrans) Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) § 4D-11 and Table 4D-102.” (This table is reproduced on page 263.)
To prove the yellow light was too short will take time and effort on your part. The book’s author offers this advice: “You may want to go back to the intersection, find a safe place to stand (or legally park), and time the yellow light duration with a stopwatch. Take at least five readings and average them, also noting the location, date, and time.” Even if the actual yellow light duration is longer than the corresponding recommended yellow light duration, you could still argue that something called “the 85th percentile speed” (a concept too complicated to explain here—you’ll have to conduct your own research) should apply rather than the yellow light durations based on the posted speed limit.
Alternately, if there aren’t any visible signs warning of photo enforcement, you may be able to use this as a defense. California Vehicle Code Section 21455.5(a)(1) states that signs must be present and must “clearly indicate the system’s presence, [be] visible to traffic approaching from all directions,” in which the system is utilized, and be posted within 200 feet of the intersection.” The author of Fight Your Ticket recommends visiting the location to investigate where such signs are posted and, if they are hard to see or missing, documenting the conditions to use as evidence at trial.
You can find “Fight Your Ticket and Win in California” at www.nolo.com; at many local public libraries and bookstores, and at your local county law library. To locate the county law library nearest you, visit www.publiclawlibrary.org.
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