Caught by a traffic camera? Throw away that ticket!

As you’re scooting through traffic, you see a flash out of the corner of your eye. You curse as you realize you’ve been caught by a traffic camera.

Lots of communities are adding photo radars. It’s a huge source of revenue. At around $200 a ticket, that’s quite the racket.

Most of us pay because, well, we’re guilty. Besides, if you don’t pay the ticket, you have a bench warrant put out on you, right?

Actually, no.

Some states, including Arizona, say that all traffic tickets must be properly served in person. Going through the U.S. postal service doesn’t cut it. So there’s a chance you should ignore that letter with its oh-so-flattering picture of you.

Talk about signing away your rights!

At the bottom of every ticket is some fine print that we tend to glance over and/or ignore. But when you sign and return the document, you’re waiving your right to proper service.

Legally, your ticket isn’t valid until a police officer or an officer of the court hands you a ticket. If you just sign and pay, you’re saying it’s okay to let the government cut legal corners.

If a server is required, then, by golly, I will be waiting until a server comes to me. If one does come, I’ll accept it as a consequence of my actions. My leadfoot not withstanding, I’m a big believer in following the law.

But if I have to follow the law, so does the government. If a ticket isn’t legit until someone (besides my mailman) serves me, I’m not paying until it’s done properly.

I don’t feel obligated to help the state break its own laws — especially when private corporations (the photo radar “vendors”) are essentially being put in charge of enforcing them.

You’re not home free yet

Just tossing the ticket doesn’t mean the matter is closed. A process server may be dispatched to serve you properly. You should know your rights when it comes to when, where and how you can be served.

If the server catches up with you, Arizona adds $25 to your ticket, for the cost of the server. Still, it’s hardly a deterrent: You’re risking $25 to potentially save $200.

So how long does this cat-and-mouse game last? Here, it’s 120 days after the violation. After that — be sure to count carefully, folks — the case is dismissed.

Does your state work like Arizona?

There are a few states with similar laws, though the only one I could confirm was California. Nevertheless, a few quick Internet searches should get you an answer.

If your state isn’t as contradictory as mine, you may still have options. Your best chance is checking for signs. Cities are supposed to post signs within 300 feet of the radar, but many are sloppy about it. In that case, you may convince a judge to throw out your case.

Oh, and if you’re feeling ethically squeamish about ignoring tickets, remember this: The law doesn’t apply evenly. Corporate cars that speed may incite a letter, but sometimes not even that. Why? Corporations, while given all the rights of individuals, are not actual people and cannot be properly served. So, once again, businesses get special treatment under the law.

If that’s not enough to make you crumple up that ticket, nothing will.


  1. savy says

    Well actually , "dogatemyfianances," I do want a cop to issue me the ticket because when I go to court who will be my accuser? A camera? I have the right to face my accuser not look at a camera.

  2. Ron Wilde says

    The ticket I got from Arizona invites me to court in 2 weeks to contest it. But the court is in the middle of nowhere about 8 hours from my house in California. If I ignore the ticket, will I have to show up in court eventually? That would not be an option for me.

    • Abigail says

      I’ve only gotten a ticket that asked me to pay the fine. If it’s specifically asking you to court, I would think that’s a very different story. I know that if you miss a court date, a bench warrant can be issued. I don’t know if that applies in your case, but it’s certainly a risk.

      If it’s an issue of transportation, I would call the state (perhaps a number was included somewhere in your paperwork?) and explain the situation. Perhaps it can get moved elsewhere or you can just send in the payment.

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