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Challenging a Red-Light Ticket

undefinedThe red-light ticket system is not always clear-cut. If you run a red light in California, the fine alone can cost up to $500, plus the cost of traffic school or increased insurance premiums. However, if the camera didn’t clearly capture the driver, the owner of the vehicle can challenge the ticket legally and likely secure a dismissal.

Entering the Intersection When the Light Is Red Will Trigger the Camera

The best way to avoid a red-light ticket is to slow down when the light turns yellow. It is illegal to speed up in an attempt to pass through the intersection before the light turns red. Camera-enforced red lights are typically triggered when a vehicle enters the intersection after the light has turned red after a statewide designated time-elapsed interval for the yellow light.

Regulated Time Intervals for Yellow Lights

The state of CA regulates the interval of a yellow light according to the speed limit and the actual speed of 85 percent of the traffic, as surveyed along that stretch of roadway. 

Caltrans sets the minimum allowable time limits statewide in the CA Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (CAMUTCD) published in April of 2017 because shorter yellows mean a higher number of vehicles having to make quick stops causing more accidents. Although municipalities can make the yellow light time interval longer, they cannot make those times shorter. The following are some examples of yellow light time intervals from three to six seconds depending on the speed limit:

Posted or Prima Facie Speed Limit in MPH 

Minimum Yellow Light Interval in Seconds 

25 or less 


















Therefore, if you receive a red-light ticket, you should return to the intersection where you received the ticket and time the yellow light. Try to use a video camera with a trusted timestamp camera, which many car dash cams have. 

Possible Defense of a Red-Light Ticket

If the traffic camera did not get a clear image of you and you receive a ticket in the mail, you stand a good chance of having the charges dismissed. However, it is not a guarantee and the process can be time-consuming without using a traffic ticket attorney. 

A ticket can also be dismissed if the camera is found to have been malfunctioning, or you were avoiding an accident or trying to get away from someone chasing you because of road rage.

A knowledgeable traffic ticket attorney advises not telling the police or court officials who was driving. You are not required to inform the court of who was driving. It is up to law enforcement to prove that you were the driver. Likewise, it is required that an experienced LEO examine the still photos and video before mailing out the ticket. When the driver cannot be clearly identified in the images or the images and video were not reviewed, the judge will more than likely drop the charges, particularly when represented by legal counsel.

What a Conviction Will Actually Cost

If you are ineligible for traffic school, do not attend, or do not complete a state-approved defensive driving course on time, the DMV will assess a Negligent Operator Treatment System (NOTS) point upon conviction or payment of the fine, which is the same as a conviction. Minor infractions such as a red-light ticket conviction remains on a driver’s motor vehicle driving record (MVR) 36 to 39 months if you cannot attend traffic school.

Once your insurance company requests a copy of your MVR at renewal, they will see the conviction, drop your “good driver’s discount,” and put you into a higher risk category, all of which will lead to a higher auto insurance premium. Therefore, if you do not challenge the ticket, you are subjecting yourself to a 35-40 percent increase. That means an additional $500 for the fine and approximately $1500 over the 36-39 months the conviction stays on your MVR if traffic school is not an option. In every scenario, you should consult a traffic ticket attorney before moving forward with paying the fine or fighting the ticket in court. Because there are instances where a lawyer can get a traffic court judge to approve traffic school when a court clerk is not authorized to do so. A perfect example is speeding more than 25 mph over the limit, which requires a judge’s permission for attendance. 

Traffic School 

The DMV allows a driver who was convicted or paid the fine for a red-light ticket and other minor traffic infractions to use a DMV-approved traffic course to make confidential the conviction. You must still pay your fine of $480-500, plus the privilege of attendance, generally $64 in many counties in Central Valley, but it will not be viewable by the public, such as insurance companies and employers. Then, you will have to pay the tuition to the school, pass the multiple-choice, open book exam upon completion, and make sure it is posted to your driving record. 

All state-approved schools are supposed to send it to the DMV, but it is still up to you to make sure the DMV posts it in the correct record. Drivers with similar names or driver’s license numbers have been known to receive other driver’s reports. Therefore, you should maintain a scanned copy in your personal records. 

There are few circumstances where you are not eligible to use traffic school to mask your ticket from insurance companies or the public: 

  • You were operating a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) when ticketed 
  • It was a major infraction (speed over 100 mph), a misdemeanor, or a felony 
  • Non-moving violations 
  • You did not possess a valid CA driver’s license, unless your home state or country allows attendance  
  • 18 months has not elapsed since your last use for a ticket, from conviction to conviction, not attendance 
  • An appearance in court is mandated for the ticket 
  • Alcohol and drug-related violations are also ineligible 

To find a DMV-approved course check the DMV.CA.GOV website here.

Traffic Ticket Attorneys Who Practice Regularly in Tulare 

When you receive a red-light ticket and believe there are grounds for dismissal, you should consult with an attorney who regularly practices traffic law in Visalia or Porterville. Unless you have an attorney’s level of knowledge in challenging a traffic ticket, you should not try to fight your red-light ticket alone. Red-light ticket laws are often very complex, and an experienced attorney will have more knowledge than you, or even an attorney from another area of law. Also, an attorney can argue the case on your behalf without you even having to be present, which will save you from taking time off. This will save you at least two trips to the courthouse and from having to miss work or school. 

Call Bigger & Harman, (661) 349-9300, for advice and possible assistance if you decide to fight the ticket in court. Se habla Español (661) 349-9755. Not all traffic tickets should be contested, but you will only know by asking.  

Send them an email,

Bigger & Harman have a Facebook business page where you can leave a private message or get links to full-length articles on traffic law. Additionally, you can read client comments on Avvo and Nolo, or Yelp.


CAMUTCD Revision 3, dated March 9, 2018 .pdf

CA.GOV website of approved traffic schools

The 2018 CA Driver Handbook .pdf