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.

    • Sam says

      How did you reply to your ticket it the “2 week court date” from Arizona?
      I’m from Montana, they want me in Mesa in Sept for a court date. I believe i’m going to ignore the ticket and hope i don’t get in trouble?
      but your story would be nice!! i had the same ticket to appear in court. thank you

  3. Sr says

    If my dad (we both live in different states that aren’t AZ) ratted me out and ID’d me, and then they send papers to my house with my name on them, then do I have to respond? I still haven’t been served yet and I’m moving to a new home in 2 weeks anyway.

    • Abigail says

      I don’t know. I would assume that’s the same as the original ticket being sent to your house. I believe being served would still require a person coming to your house, but I’m not sure about different states’ rules.

      So playing it safe may be your best bet. I will say that the new address won’t necessarily keep you safe. The onus would be on you to have picked up your mail or have it forwarded.

  4. says

    I came from Arizona to my home in Cleveland, Ohio, a week went by and I received

    a camera ticket from Payson Arizona. It stated that I was driving 13 miles above the

    speed limit when they told me I should have been within 11 miles of the speed limit. The ticket states that I owe 212.00 or take a defense driving school and pay 174.00 instead and that would not put points on my record. I have not received a ticket in over 23 years.

    I am 73 years old and I find this out rages. The video shows that a truck in the right hand lane going faster than me. Is there any way I can get out of this ticket.

    • Abigail says

      Ugh, that’s a frustrating situation! I don’t think you can get out of a ticket unless you actually show up in court. You live in a different state, so I’m guessing there’s no danger of getting served and having the ticket enforced. We never got served, and we live in Arizona.

  5. says

    I think I was clicked in Phoenix,AZ between crossings “Indian School and 15th ave ” & “Indian School and 19th ave ” by a mobile unit (City of phoenix very new vehicle). There was no sign that a mobile unit is present or otherwise.

    What do you suggest?

    • Abigail says

      I don’t think they are required to put up a sign warning you. I think the signs are mainly to encourage people to avoid speeding. If you were clicked, you should get a ticket in the mail. You can decide what to do from there.

  6. JLA says

    So a process worker never served you? My ticket is due in a week but I don’t wanna pay because it is BS that a long dark road is 40 mph limit in Lincoln drive in paradise valley. That messed up my entire night. I was only doing 55 cruise control and no one around.

  7. maggie says

    is it normal for a mailed ticket to include a court summons date you have to appear by? it states if I pay prior or attend defensive driving school I don’t need to appear…

    also, can process servers get past gate code entries?

    thanks in advance for your response!

    • Abigail says

      Yikes, no idea about the gate entry code issue. It’s been too long for me to really remember what the ticket looked like. I remember the option to take a class or pay prior. I think most tickets auto-include a court date so that you can contest it if you like.

      Sorry I can’t be of more specific help.

  8. Erick says

    I live in California and got a photo ticket in the mail that told me to either send in the money or show up to the court date that was marked to fight my case . I missed the date 3 days ago and I’m planning on going in today … They have not contacted me about anything yet . Should I bother going in or go along with saying I want someone to physically accuse me and serve me ?? It’s a $490 ticket which is ridiculous because all I did was turn right in a turning lane on a red light

  9. Erick says

    And also will a bench warrant be put out if I choose not to respond to the ticket … I would appreciate help with this thank you

    • Abigail says

      Well, remember that I’m not a lawyer. But if CA has the same rules as AZ, then a warrant will not be put out until you’ve been served. Since the court date is optional, a warrant shouldn’t be involved anyway — again, assuming your state’s laws are similar to mine. Here’s a lawyers’ site I found in a search — I have no affiliation — that only charges if they win, so maybe they can give you information/a quote:

  10. Beej says

    My son got a red light cam ticket in Mesa by MCC. Of course the ticket had the three options, pay, traffic school or show up on the court date. We got the ticket 2 months ago. Should we wait out the next 2 months? And if we do and get served will he still have the option to go to traffic school?

    • Abigail says

      The sources I’ve read don’t say whether traffic school will still be an option. It may be that getting served means you have to pay. Sorry I can’t offer more insight.

  11. Miserable in Mesa says

    Right on Red maybe…. How do you know if you got flashed on a right on red? I have gotten a ticket the second day I moved here. In Calif the yellows are 4-6 seconds and the yellows in Mesa are 3sec. See Newton’s law on that one… So I stop on yellow and green now. I watch the cross walk count downs, some adhere to it some don’t… I have a small heart attack every time I come to an intersection here.

    The thing is…. I stop and double check to see if it is right on red O.K then do the creep up to see if it is clear and proceed. Cautiously of course. However I noticed after reading about on the net, it is possible to stop before the sensors, proceed and still get ticketed? I felt I was flashed, but while my head was turned to check right of way traffic all while rolling half on the break and idle. (picture car in crosswalk, head turned to watch for cars) “you know, like we all do to creep up over the crosswalk” Is that a ticket offense? Rolling up and thru while riding the break? I had stopped back before the crosswalk on red but the other cars waiting for the green were to far forward to see past em…I’m moving next month due the high stress of Mesa’s camera tickets…

    Is there a way to plead not guilty to a camera? Which is really taken out of context if you produce a picture of someone rolling thru but had stopped before the white line…? Is there some way to argue these or are we just being fleeced/ shaked down? I mean how do you tell a judge you had stopped, creeped up not even registering on the speedo? Is there video of every picture available for the 10 seconds prior? How do you get that?

    Sorry for so long but I am spinning here…



    • Abigail says

      The only two times Tim or I have gotten a ticket, the flash was apparent to us, and in each case it was for speeding. It would have been directly in front of you, I believe. I don’t think it’d be sensitive enough to detect rolling through on red, but I honestly don’t know.

      If you wanted to contest any ticket you get, you’d have to go to court. Which also means paying the court fees. In my case, those would be nearly as expensive. Though of course, one doesn’t get you points on your license. So it’s up to you.

  12. Nicky says

    What happens if the ticket was served to my mother (who lives in the same dwelling) but it’s actually mine. Will I now have to pay the ticket or can I ignore it? What happens if I do choose to ignore it?

    • Abigail says

      If it’s sent to her, it’s up to her what to do. She can report that it was you driving. They’d then send the ticket to you, I believe. Personally, I wouldn’t skirt the ticket if it’s in your mom’s name, since she’ll take the fall if they decide to take further action.

  13. Niv says

    I liv in CA and I just got a speeding photo ticket in AZ. What are the odds of me getting personally getting serve here in Cali?

    • Abigail says

      Obviously, I can’t say for sure. But my guess is pretty much zero. If they didn’t send someone after us here because we had an out-of-state plate still, I doubt they’d send someone to CA.

  14. Drew says

    So I got a speeding ticket in Scottsdale, AZ and it was a camera ticket just got it the other week in the mail from the beginning of July. If it has a court date on it do I have to pay it? It says on the ticket “to avoid a collision” or something along those lines, so pretty sure either way if they try and take this to court I can get out of it. Am I wrong in thinking like that?

    • Abigail says

      Does it say that you need to either pay the ticket OR go to court by X date? This was 4 years ago, so I’m fuzzy on whether ours listed a court date.

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