The Car and Truck Fleet and Leasing Management Magazine

Market Trends

Does Automatic Payment of Camera Tickets Violate a Driver’s Due Process Rights?

July 5, 2011, by Mike Antich - Also by this author

Major cities using red light cameras include Albuquerque, Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York City, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, D.C., along with many smaller communities.

When a red light infraction is recorded by a camera, the registered license plate holder is mailed the ticket, regardless of who was driving the vehicle. If the vehicle is leased, the lessor receives the ticket, since it is the registered owner. Most fleet management companies (FMC) automatically pay these tickets to avoid late penalties. The tickets are also forwarded by the FMC to the client fleet or a third-party service provider. The registered owner or lessee of the vehicle is held liable for the alleged violation unless he or she can prove another person was actually driving the vehicle, such as a family member during personal use.

Mistakes Happen

It is standard practice for trained police officers or other officials to review every red light camera picture to verify vehicle information and ensure a violation occurred. A ticket is issued only if there is clear evidence the vehicle ran a red light. A picture doesn’t lie; however, human interpretation of the photos can sometimes be erroneous. Here’s a real-world example. One Dallas motorist was cited for running a red light, even though he did not own the car in question and was elsewhere at the time of the infraction.

The cause of the error was the officer who signed off on the photo-enforced ticket. He mistook an “N” for an “M” on the license plate, causing the ticket to be issued to the wrong driver. Here’s another real-world example. Red light cameras are set so that only those vehicles that enter an intersection after the light has turned red are photographed. However, this can result in ludicrous errors. For example, one driver was ticketed for running a red light while in a funeral procession motorcade.

In a separate instance, a motorist was ticketed after being forced to move into the intersection to make way for a siren-blaring fire truck responding to an emergency. A red light camera does not have the ability to deal with these mitigating circumstances.

Another thorny issue with red light camera infractions is “technical” violations. Examples include failure to stop for a full three seconds before turning right, having your tires over the intersection lines while stopped, or entering an intersection during a yellow light, but with only a half second before it turns red. In Tennessee, 176 drivers were refunded for fines paid after it was discovered that the length of the yellow signal was too short for that location, and motorists were caught running the light in the first second of the red phase.

Violation of a Driver’s Due Process Rights

Under U.S. jurisprudence, you are innocent until proven guilty. However, with red light camera citations, you are guilty until you prove your innocence. Some argue that citations generated by red light cameras violate a driver’s right to due process. The key concern is the timing of tickets. When an officer pulls you over and writes a citation, the motorist is immediately aware of the violation.

Not so with red light cameras. Tickets may be mailed out weeks after the violation actually occurred. The more time in between the alleged violation and the actual ticketing, the more difficult it is to remember the circumstances surrounding the incident and to mount a defense against the citation.

If someone else was driving the vehicle, the burden of proof falls on the driver to prove it, negating the legal presumption of “innocent until proven guilty.” This legal challenge was adjudicated in a ruling by the District of Columbia Court of Appeals in 2007, which agreed with a lower court when it found that the presumption of liability of the owners of vehicles issued citations does not violate due process rights. This ruling was supported by a 2009 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision, which upheld the constitutionality of issuing citations to vehicle owners (or lessees).

But, what about the drivers who were never informed they were cited for running a red light and the tickets were automatically paid on their behalf? This occurs with some regularity at some fleets, which lack the resources to notify all ticketed drivers.

Does automatic payment of a ticket implicitly presume guilt and deny the driver due process? Some fleet drivers have been cited for running a red light and had the fine paid, all without ever knowing about it or given the due process opportunity to contest the citation.

Many fleets or risk departments, especially one-person departments, do not have the resources to notify every driver or even attempt to recoup the fine from the driver. If you are managing a delivery or pool fleet, it can be difficult to identify who the driver of the vehicle was at the time of the infraction. As shown, automated enforcement technology is not infallible. Would some of these drivers, if they had known, want to contest these citations?

“In addition to possible due process concerns, an employee may have a claim for wrongful termination if your failure to provide notice of the infraction ultimately cost the employee his or her license,” said Richard Alaniz, attorney at law for Alaniz and Schraeder, LLP in Houston.”The employee would argue that the company denied them the opportunity to contest the ticket which resulted in the suspension of their commercial drivers’ license. In this scenario, your failure to notify the employee of the infraction could be seen as the proximate cause of the employee’s termination. As a corporate defense attorney, these are not the type of facts that I would want to have to defend.”

Could “I’m too busy” or “I don’t have the resources” be an adequate defense in a court of law as to why drivers are not notified of camera enforcement of traffic infractions?

Let me know what you think.

[email protected]


  1. 1. Phil Moser [ July 05, 2011 @ 12:38PM ]

    This is an issue that needs to be addressed. Red light cameras are not going away. They are effective with reducing injury producing crashes, they provide a less expensive enforcement tool and they create revenue. This will evolve, and solutions will need to be created that address the lack of due process that many fleet drivers face.

  2. 2. wayne smolda [ July 05, 2011 @ 01:04PM ]

    This issue for camera citations is still evolving but provides little offense for the small percentage of mishaps that may occur. The actual citations issed go through a validation process and so the process seems rather credible.

    If one thinks about this more broadly, the net results even with those fractional mishaps, is that all of us drivers are still way ahead on the blame game. For every camera violation that is questionable, I'd suggest the alleged victim has avoided so many other deserved citations and is winning by a large margin.

    Let's remember that intersectional carmera violations were intended to reduce risky traffic patterns by poor agressive driving behavior. I'd say, having recieved one myself, that our intersections are becoming less risky due to these carmera, and even the hapless victim of one by error is ahead of the game on risk.

    We should all applaud these cameras, accept the fractional cost of getting one possibly unfairly, and cheer for safer intersections in the long run.I call this a very good ROI on safety.

  3. 3. Norman Smith [ January 31, 2012 @ 08:01PM ]

    I disagree with most everything in the last paragraph. With a red light camera ticket, your rights are exactly the same as if a person had written the citation on scene. You are "charged" with the violation, and you may pay the bail and admit fault, or go to court to contest it. Contrary to the article, you are not "guilty until you prove yourself innocent".

    As for tickets that were paid on someone's behalf without their knowledge, these tickets must have been issued to the registered owner, not to the actual driver, so he isn't being charged with anything. If the employer or fleet operator figures out who was driving and expects them to pay the ticket, that is between those two parties, but is not a fault of the ticketing process. That brings up an interesting question though, if the registered owner is an entity, can they be charged with a moving violation? Since obviously the "corporation" was not driving the vehicle. Expired tags, or burned our brake lights, could rightfully be issued to the business, but a moving violation?

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Mike Antich

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Mike Antich has covered fleet management and remarketing for more than 20 years and was inducted in the Fleet Hall of Fame in 2010.

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