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What to Know About Red Light Cameras in San Diego

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Posted on January 20, 2024

National data from 2019 lists California as the worst state in the country for car accidents caused by drivers running red lights. Running a red light is a tremendous risk, not only of causing an accident and bearing liability for any property damage, injuries, or deaths, but in California, it also risks traffic citations, fines, and points against your driver’s license. While in the past, careless drivers in California may have risked driving through a red light if they didn’t see any law enforcement vehicles nearby and assumed they wouldn’t be caught, the installation of red light cameras at controlled intersections throughout San Diego and other cities in California has changed that assumption.

How Do Red Light Cameras in California Work?

Red light cameras are illegal in some states, but they’ve been legalized in California under the California Vehicle Code Section 21455.5. These cameras exist in intersections throughout California. City traffic agencies install multiple cameras in selected intersections to capture traffic footage from all directions. The cameras have sensors that are synchronized with the intersection’s traffic lights. If a vehicle crosses the line after a light turns red, the sensors pick it up and trigger the camera. If a vehicle is already in the intersection when the light changes—meaning the light changed from yellow to red after the car crossed the line—it doesn’t trigger the camera.

Most red light cameras in California take two photos of the vehicle in violation, one when the car crosses the line, and another of the car in the intersection, capturing the vehicle’s license tag. Technology in the cameras also records the vehicle’s speed as well as the date, time, and intersection location.

When accidents occur in intersections due to a driver running a red light, the traffic camera footage is a valuable tool for proving fault and liability for the accident later.

What Happens When You Get a Ticket From a San Diego Traffic Light Camera?

Some drivers may notice the flash of the camera as they drive through the intersection, especially if the infraction occurs at night, but most drivers are unaware that their driving error or misdeed was recorded until they receive a citation in the mail. The ticket contains all information, including the date, time, location, violation code, and a photo of the vehicle and license tag in the intersection. The citation also includes the driver’s fine. Although the base traffic fine for running a red light in San Diego is $100.00, depending on the county, the fees and surcharges added can cost the driver as much as $450.00—one of the state’s highest fines for traffic infractions. Fines are lower for those making an illegal right turn on a red light, with a base fine of $35.00.

Paying the ticket is an automatic admission of guilt and results in a point added to your DMV record and higher insurance rates.

What Are My Options After Receiving a Ticket From a Red Light Camera in San Diego?

Some drivers who receive traffic tickets from San Diego red light cameras choose to fight the ticket in court. Although it’s difficult to argue or rebut photographic evidence, judges sometimes dismiss a ticket and remove the point from the driver’s license if the driver has a plausible explanation and no one was harmed, especially if the driver has no previous history of running a red light and a clean driving record.

If the vehicle’s license tag is obscured or unclear in the photo, a driver may argue that it’s a case of misidentification. In some cases, the driver may argue that they were not the driver of the vehicle when the photo was taken.

Alternatively, after a conviction, the driver can pay the fine but have the point removed from their license by attending traffic school.

While mistakes happen, It’s best to carefully adhere to right-of-way laws in California, including at controlled intersections with traffic cameras in San Diego and throughout the state.