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How red light cameras impact insurance

Fact-checked with HomeInsurance.com

Red light cameras are everywhere throughout the cities within the U.S. — whether they are designed to serve a safety function or operate more as a revenue generator, seeing a ticket arrive in your mailbox is usually a negative experience.

In spite of the animosity felt toward red light cameras, they are popular tools designed to dissuade red light runners and reduce dangerous crashes at intersections. But what are the real impacts of getting a blurry photo of your license plate? This article explores a potential red light camera tickets’ impact on insurance and whether getting caught by one could raise your rates.

What are red light cameras?

Red light cameras are traffic enforcement tools that use cameras and motion sensors to automatically photograph vehicles that run red lights. If you’re still in an intersection after the light changes, a red light camera will take a photo of your vehicle and its license plate. The city can then use DMV records to locate your personal information and address and issue you a ticket via mail.

Depending on where you’re located in the United States, red light camera fines generally range between $40 and $300 depending on the number of related offenses, and whether you were in a school or construction zone.

Where are red light cameras?

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, 399 municipalities in the United States actively used red light camera enforcement in 2019. Some cities have utilized them effectively for years, others have repealed them and many have made millions of dollars in revenue.

Overall, the number of red light camera programs has been on the decline since 2012, as more initiatives have ended than have begun. Here are a few examples of their many successes and failures:

  • In Houston, red light cameras were deactivated after years of use, voted down by both the city council and city voters. Those against the cameras believed them to be a money-making scheme that did not have a large impact on public safety. Texas followed suit by banning cameras across the state in 2019.
  • Los Angeles has had an on-and-off relationship with red light cameras. In 2010, the city voted to shut down their controversial red light program, citing a lack of viable enforcement and overall monetary loss. In 2017, cameras were reinstalled in certain areas of the city. However, enforcement remains questionable, with no consequences for failing to respond to a ticket or pay the fine.
  • Westminster, Maryland, a Baltimore suburb, deactivated most of their red light cameras for a more troubling reason — they were believed to be causing accidents, while at the same time costing taxpayers money. Although there were a low number of citations, there are also a high number of collisions. Only one camera remains in the city, as it is the only one that is proving to effectively reduce accidents and provide revenue.
  • Arlington, Virginia’s red light cameras are a bright spot in the case for them. A study from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety indicates that Arlington’s red light cameras are doing what they are intended: reducing the number of red light violations, especially those that would likely result in crashes
  • In Fairfax City, Virginia, red light cameras are effective, and city officials are not shy about discussing the cameras’ role in revenues. Over the years, city officials have continued to expand their red light program, called “Respect Red”, in order to finance the hiring of additional police officers. Reports indicate that the cameras are doing more than generating money, however, as they are also increasing safety on the city’s streets.

What to do if you get a ticket from a red light camera

If you’re unlucky enough to receive a red light camera ticket in the mail, don’t just jump to pay it before confirming its validity. The first thing you should do is confirm the type of ticket you’ve received. In the majority the U.S., red light camera tickets are considered a civil violation, not a moving violation. This means you won’t face any points on your license and your insurance company won’t be notified. However, in some places – namely Arizona, California and Oregon – citations issued by red light cameras carry just as much weight as those written by police officers.

Regardless of the type of ticket you receive, most municipalities enforce specific laws that govern red light violations and could let you off the hook. For example, a rolling right turn is legal in many cities, but may still trigger a red light camera violation. These tickets can be dismissed by providing an explanation to the court. There may also be a statute of limitations on infractions. In 2019, the city of Cedar Rapids, Iowa waived and refunded a total of $17 million in unenforceable red light camera tickets following a class-action lawsuit. Many of the tickets had been issued long enough prior that they could not be collected in the eyes of the law.

Check the ticket for accuracy; any issues with it, such as a printed error in your name or the date, may lead to instant dismissal. You should also check for posted signs that warn of photo enforcement. In some states, a missing or non-visible sign is grounds for ticket cancellation.

Most violations will come along with photo or video evidence, but if you’re not provided with this information, or it does not seem sufficient to prove your guilt, it may make sense to fight it. Going to court over a red light ticket is a risky endeavor, as you may end up with court costs on top of your existing fine. But if successful, you can save on the cost of fines.

How to avoid red light camera tickets

If you’ve received a red light camera ticket that is valid and enforceable, you may have no choice but to pay it. However, there are a few measures you can take to reduce the chance of being forced to submit to a fine.

Be safe and don’t run red lights

The most obvious defense against red light camera tickets is practicing safe driving. If you don’t run a red light, you’re not likely to be snagged for a ticket. If you’re approaching an intersection on a stale green light, slow down so that you’ll be prepared to stop if necessary. And if you see a yellow light, stop if it is safe for you to do so. You should also be careful to stop your car behind the limit line, as going over the line can trigger cameras, even if you haven’t fully entered the intersection.

Know the law

Are right turns on red allowed in your municipality? Or do any laws on the books ban red light tickets from being issued to those not proceeding straight through the intersection? Know traffic laws ahead of time so that you can avoid getting penalized for not following the rules closely – and evaluate whether a red light camera ticket is worth contesting.

Ignore your ticket entirely

As discussed, in some cities, there is no real penalty for throwing your red light camera ticket in the trash and forgetting it ever existed. This only works, of course, if your violation happens in one of these cities. Do your research to find out what the penalties are for ignoring a ticket, if any.

The takeaway:

  • There are currently around 400 U.S. municipalities with red light cameras.
  • Red light camera usage peaked in 2012 in the United States. While some cities continue to operate red light camera initiatives with varying success, more programs are now being terminated than being opened.
  • Not all red light camera tickets are enforceable. Carefully check tickets for validity and familiarize yourself with local laws before paying the fine.
  • Most states prevent red light camera tickets from affecting your insurance rates. However, in some states such as Arizona, California and Oregon, tickets issued by these cameras can affect your driving record just like any other moving violation.

Red light cameras may seem like just an annoyance, but in some cases, they can be costly. While everyone makes mistakes, safe driving habits like slowing down when approaching an intersection can reduce your chances of being fined and keep everyone safer on the road. The good news is that in most states, red light camera tickets’ impact on insurance is prohibited by law.

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