Cam scam redux
Transit officials targeting the elderly and others with red-light camera tickets
By Jennifer Hadley 08/15/2013
One of my favorite part-time jobs is working with Harry, who hired me last year to help him with some writing. Harry, who just turned 81, likes me to write personal thank you notes to his doctor, dentist, barber and Costco. His conscientiousness blows my mind and makes me a bit sad, as I feel he’s one of the last of a dying breed.
Harry doesn’t need my help with writing letters. He’s just not very quick on the computer, whereas it takes me 90 seconds to type up a letter or post a glowing review of his air conditioning repair man. From time to time he also asks me to research things online for him, which, again, is firmly in my wheelhouse.
When I showed up last week, Harry was upset. He had received a “red-light camera” ticket from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA). The three-page letter had instructions for scheduling an arraignment, how to take traffic school, how to plead not guilty (you still have to pay the bail), and photos of Harry driving in his Camry looking a little frazzled. Harry explained to me what happened.
“The car in front of me decided to swing wide to make a right turn at the last minute. I had to swerve around to miss him and I got caught in the light,” he said.
Sure enough, the blurry images proved that Harry’s recollection of the event was crystal clear. He asked me to help him look up attorneys and figure out how to fight this thing. I was happy to do so, but vaguely recalled something about red-light camera tickets being quite the racket. Perhaps Harry wouldn’t have to pay, I thought, and started planning Harry’s defense.
The first thing I came across was a loophole in our Vehicle Code which gets Harry off the hook. VC Section 21462 states: “The driver of any vehicle … shall obey the instructions of any official traffic signal applicable to him and placed as provided by law, unless otherwise directed by a police or traffic officer or when it is necessary for the purpose of avoiding a collision or in case of other emergency.” Harry was in the clear. It was obvious he was trying to avoid an accident.
But just to be sure, I did some more research and found out that Harry had plenty of options. He could go to court and request a speedy trial (hahaha), or he could invoke his Sixth Amendment right to confront his accuser (the camera owner, who would have to show maintenance records), or he could even have the case thrown out on the basis of hearsay, since no human witnessed him breaking the law.
Boy, was I on a roll. I was gearing up to help Harry fight this with everything I had. But just to be sure I wasn’t imagining anything I decided to check one more thing. Sure enough, as evidenced in Justin Chapman’s article “Stop!” in the Dec. 15, 2011 edition of the Pasadena Weekly, the red-light camera program in Pasadena was now defunct. If it was scrapped in Pasadena, maybe it would be the same in Encino.
Unfortunately, it isn’t defunct, but it’s still a voluntary ticket. I found this out through an article titled “As Memory Fades, Motorists Start Paying LA County Red-light Camera Tickets Again, Even Though They Don’t Have To,” published on the Web site libertyfight.com. The article led me to highwayrobbery.net, which also confirmed that in 2011, when word got out that paying red-light camera tickets was voluntary, fines collected plummeted by 40 percent. Since that time, apparently people have forgotten that camera tickets cannot be enforced, and are once again paying them. But the truth of the matter is that no matter where you get a camera ticket in Los Angeles County, paying it is absolutely optional. Case closed.
Sure, Harry may get some bullying notices in the mail to pay the fine, but it will not affect his credit, nor will failure to pay be reported to the DMV. His best course of action is to throw the ticket in the trash and forget the whole thing ever happened. Just like the MTA is counting on us to forget that these tickets are bogus.
I hope this serves as another reminder that those camera tickets are an utter sham. And, frankly, folks at the MTA ought to be ashamed of themselves. I don’t like anyone trying to trick, con, or bully my friends.
Contact Jennifer Hadley at firstname.lastname@example.org.