(Note: The contents of this post are for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. If you need legal advice, please contact a lawyer.)

Amid great government fanfare and greater public disdain, Albemarle County recently activated the area’s first photo red-light cameras. Ironically dubbed “PhotoSafe” by County government’s internal public relations machine, the camera installations are touted as a program to “improve traffic safety” and reduce accident fatalities:

Each year, nearly 1,000 fatalities in the United States are the direct result of red light running. This is a serious problem in Albemarle County as well.  During the three year period of January 2006 to January 2009 there have been 177 crashes at the Route 29/Rio Road intersection alone, 22 of which were attributable to red light running.   Across the nation communities are reducing the number of deaths and injuries from red light offenses by 20 to 50% by installing red light cameras.

While red-light cameras’ contribution to driving safety is dubious at best, many instead are classifying the installations as a revenue-generating device for cash-strapped Albemarle County government.

Not referenced by the county in their introductory press release, are the legal rights of Virginians and the legal obligations of issuing governments under the new PhotoSafe red-light camera system.

Exclusive to The Schilling Show Blog and News, the National Motorists Association (NMA) has released a white paper entitled: It Can Be Expensive Not Knowing Your Rights When Facing A Virginia Red-Light Camera Ticket

The NMA asserts that under Virginia law:

“…the recipient of the mailed photo ticket can ignore the mailing without consequence…”

They add an important caveat and a warning—not to respond to mailed tickets—in order to preserve ticket recipients’ rights:

“If the recipient acknowledges receipt of the ticket in any way to an officer of the court, the photo ticket is considered valid and the defendant is legally required to appear in court on the return date of the summons.”

The Association concludes its editorial with this advice for potential red-light camera citation recipients:

Many Virginia motorists can save the costly expense of a red-light camera citation by ignoring a photo ticket not handed to them personally. Typical approaches by municipalities to coerce a response, and therefore a waiver of the state’s personal service requirement, include mailing the ticket to the vehicle owner’s home address or tacking a copy of the summons to the owner’s door. Don’t fall for it.

Read or download the NMA’s advisory in its entirety:

It Can Be Expensive Not Knowing Your Rights When Facing A Virginia Red-Light Camera Ticket

A Guest Editorial by the National Motorists Association November 4, 2010

Fifteen states prohibit the use of red-light and highway speed cameras. Virginia is not among them. But Virginians have a legal protection that only one other U.S. state (Arizona) grants, a right that Virginia municipalities do their utmost to circumvent to maximize ticket revenue. The irony is that this right is exercised by simply doing nothing after receiving a Virginia photo ticket in the mail. If you respond to the mailed citation, you end up waiving that legal right.

Let’s stop here for a second. Many people are opposed to contesting a traffic ticket, figuring that they wouldn’t have been charged with the violation if they didn’t deserve it. So why try to avoid paying a Virginia photo ticket? It may help to understand that there are several questionable aspects of red-light camera programs, including several violations of basic due process rights. Here are a few:

  • Ticket cameras cause an increase in traffic accidents
  • Needed intersection safety improvements are deferred in order to maintain ticket revenue
  • It is hypocritical to claim that ticket cameras are all about safety, not revenue, despite overwhelming evidence that such programs are shut down after becoming unprofitable
  • Several due process rights afforded to defendants are trampled, including:

o   Ticket recipients are not promptly or verifiably notified

o   The driver of the vehicle is not positively identified

o   The vehicle owner is presumed guilty until proven innocent, regardless of who the driver was when the camera flashed

o   There is no certifiable witness to the alleged violation, someone who can be questioned and challenged in court

With that backdrop of seriously problematic issues surrounding the use of red-light cameras and of the stacked deck that faces photo ticket defendants, let’s return to that additional due process right afforded defendants by Virginia law. §15.2-968.1, Use of photo-monitoring systems to enforce traffic light sig- nals, of the Virginia State Code says the following in paragraph G about the defendant’s rights after a photo citation has been mailed:

“If the summoned person fails to appear on the date of return set out in the summons mailed pursuant to this section, the summons shall be executed in the manner set out in §19.2-76.3. No proceedings for contempt or arrest of a person summoned by mailing shall be instituted for failure to appear on the return date of the summons.”

In other words, the recipient of the mailed photo ticket can ignore the mailing without consequence. (An important caveat: If the recipient acknowledges receipt of the ticket in any way to an officer of the court, the photo ticket is considered valid and the defendant is legally required to appear in court on the return date of the summons.)

Critical language from §19.2-76.3, Paragraph C, drives home the point that Virginia requires personal ser- vice — the actual in-person delivery of the citation to the defendant — for a photo ticket to be considered valid and enforceable:

“No proceedings for contempt or arrest of any person summoned under the provisions of this section shall be instituted unless such person has been personally served with a summons and has failed to appear on the return date contained therein.”

Many Virginia motorists can save the costly expense of a red-light camera citation by ignoring a photo ticket not handed to them personally. Typical approaches by municipalities to coerce a response, and therefore a waiver of the state’s personal service requirement, include mailing the ticket to the vehicle owner’s home address or tacking a copy of the summons to the owner’s door. Don’t fall for it.

15 COMMENTS

  1. In Montgomery County, Maryland, 23,000 of the 40,000 Photo Tickets were trash canned. It seems that the camera will snap when the batteries get weak, as well as other little quirks, that cause the units to falsely activate. How much tax money was wasted, to find that the camera was incorrect more than 50% of the time?

  2. I have heard a contradictory legal opinion from my lawyer.

    I am loathe to follow the advice of anyone who leads with the disclaimer: “The contents of this post are for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. If you need legal advice, please contact a lawyer.”

    Regardless, my personal, non-legal advice is quite simple: the surest way to avoid a citation is not to break the law.

    Moreover, the easiest way to see this entire issue disappear in our rearview mirror is for every driver to obey the law.

    This so-called “revenue generating device” doesn’t generate any revenue under such a scenario, and voila, the photo red camera goes the way of the buggy whip.

  3. as someone who gets flipped off, honked at, swerved around and sees a whole lot of other rude, disrespectful, and dangerous behavior on the roads because –hello!–I follow the speed limit, I can say I’m not at all hacked off about red light cameras. Like the other guy said, don’t break the law and it won’t be a problem.

  4. I appear to have gotten a ticket for turning right on red. After watching the video, I clearly yielded to traffic turning in front of me. It even shows my brake light is on. Isn’t it legal to turn right on red in Albemarle County? What recourse do I have on this?

  5. To those folks who tend to resolve the issue so simply as to say “just don’t break the law” I have to say: wait till you get the ticket in your mail, and you may return to this website. It is easy to play a Saint and give a righteous advise.
    Well, how about this situation: I let other scut in front of me, I stop to let a car in front of me to enter from a side driveway onto a heavy traffic road, …. I do not run red lights… But what happened is this: I turned right on the red light, barely stopping at the intersection (seeing that there were no cars approaching). More than that: a police car was at that intersection at the time. So, no accident could possibly happen – there were no cars near that intersection besides mine and the cop’s.
    A week later I receive the ticket notice. Now, the question to the Saints who advise “just don’t breal the law”, I want to ask you – did I commit such a horrible crime to pay $50.00, or did I act with consideration for safety of others and did not expose a single life to danger? To your knowledge, statistically, 85% of Americans demonstrate just the same behavior: they do not come to a complete stop at the intersection for 2 seconds when the light turns red. They do just the opposite – if there is no danger to continue the travel, they turn right on red and go on by their business: millions of people, daily!!!
    So, tell me the Righteous Ones, if the majority of Americans safely “violate” the stupid law on daily basis and no one gets hurt – should the law be abandoned? Or should the local municipalities keep charging the folks only to stuff their $$ in the pockets of their enflated governments???

    Yes, we NEED to fight the laws that are nothing but a VISION of justice. I got not one but 2 tickets for the same type of violation: one in December of 2012 and one just recently. DID NOT PAY AND WILL NOT PAY!!!
    And nothing ever happened by the way: the city threatened to pass the case to debt collectors, but guess what: read the VA Code re: the Red Light Cameras, and you will see that the Motorists Association is actually giving a very good advise: local governments are banking on your fear and lack of knowledge of the law. They are actually the ones who break the law, when it clearly states (in my paraphrase) “SUMMONS have to be PERSONALLY DELIVERED”. That’s it! Unless you see the cop at your door, toss that trash out of your window and spoend your $50.00 on flowers for your wife, or go eat-out. better yet: spread the news so that more people are aware of how the local municipalities are setting us up for a failure (yes, they do: the light that I “ran” has a shortened yellow light – I timed it for several DAYS! It is deliberately shorter than is advised by the National Traffic Institute regulations, to make drivers run the red lights, thus causing more $$ trickling down the local paperpushers’ pockets).
    Know your rights, people. And ignore the illegal “notices”: they can’t do anything to you – I am a living example of this!

  6. This is incorrect. If the summoned person fails to appear on the date of return set out in the summons mailed pursuant to this section, the summons shall be executed in the manner set out in § 19.2-76.3. which states: "If any person fails to appear on the date of the return contained in the summons issued in accordance with § 19.2-76.2, then a summons shall be delivered to the sheriff of the county, city or town for service on that person as set out in § 8.01-296."

  7. What happened to burden of proof? A picture of my vehicle turning right on red, after breaking, doesn’t prove that I was the driver. Matter of fact, I wasn’t the driver. I also live out of state and would not want the expense of appearing in court. That is what they are counting on!
    This is an attempt to collect 50 bucks. Period.
    You can’t make me pay a fine for something I didn’t do, simply because I owned the vehicle.
    They also got my name incorrect as well as my address. My info is current through DMV, so that is suspicious.
    Going in the Trash!

  8. I have received Montgomery County (MD) Camera citation ( 48 in 35 zone) $40 fine or contest. I am VA driver. does this go on VA driver record ?
    I am ok to pay the ticket. as long as it doesn’t go on the record

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