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License plate photos for running red lights accurate?

Original post made by Wondering, Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Jul 31, 2008

I was driving from the Dumbarton Bridge and turning on Willow Road while the light was yellow and a flash went off on Willow Road. I am assuming it was taking a photo of my license plate. However, I did not run a red light. I did not want to skid to a stop so I ran the yellow. Should I expect a ticket in the mail? And is it worth fighting or is it illegal to run a yellow?

Does the light flash at every red or does it flash when someone has passed the line after the light is yellow? How accurate is that camera?

Comments (10)

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Posted by Johnny Law
a resident of another community
on Jul 31, 2008 at 9:49 pm

Got-cha! - The bill in the mail.

-On the other hand.

Avoiding Fines

Some citizens have been so frustrated with red-light cameras that they have bought special sprays that prevent your license plate from being photographed. The spray reflects the flash back to the camera so that your license plate gets whited-out in the photo. The spray is invisible to the naked eye and was completely legal until December 31, 2007.

Um.... how about not driving through red lights.

A new California law took effect on January 1, 2008. AB 801 makes it illegal to sell or use a product (spray coating) that obstructs or impairs the recognition of a license plate by an electronic device operated by police or toll authority. The fine for using a product to obscure a license plate is approximately $146, and the fine for selling such a product is approximately $900.

Web Link


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Posted by RS
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 31, 2008 at 10:01 pm

Cant help you with the camera, but I can help you with the law. It is legal to enter an intersection on a yellow. If the light turns red while you are in the intersection, you are ok. You must clear the intersection on a red, if because of heavy traffic in front you, you cant clear the intersection thats also a ticket. You cant remain in the intersection when the light is red.

There more than you wanted to know. Good luck with the camera.


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Posted by Keep 'em honest!
a resident of Greater Miranda
on Jul 31, 2008 at 10:10 pm

Put cameras on every light, and put them at crosswalk placements. Tag everyone who breaks the law. Nice deterrent; it will get people thinking about consequences. I like it!


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Posted by Walter E. Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 1, 2008 at 1:17 am

Go back and time the lights. Because some companies are paid piecework for their cameras, their workers have been found to adjust timing to enhance revenues. I have always objected to traffic fines - I believe that any citation should require attendance at a driver education school.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 1, 2008 at 4:02 pm

If you are driving at the limit and cross within the yellow light, there should be no problems. If you are going above the limit and there is no time for you to stop if the light changes to yellow and get across, then you are driving too fast. The lights should be timed to allow you to slow down and stop if you are not driving too fast, or to cross before the red light if you are too close to stop.


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Posted by Wondering's Update
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 11, 2008 at 10:46 pm

Update: OK, I got my citation notice in the mail today and there are FOUR photos: one of the back license plate, one of my face, one showing my car just about to cross the line and the light is red (I swore it was at the end of yellow but can't argue this), and one of my car in the intersection with the light red.

I think these cameras would be helpful on many intersections of Palo Alto as I have seen people crossing obvious, obvious red lights around town.



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Posted by tourist from slo
a resident of Meadow Park
on Sep 10, 2008 at 9:35 pm

I got a citation in the mail for same location - Willow Rd! Can anyone confirm or give add'l input on the time length for yellow lights. I was told it should be around 4 seconds...the yellow at Willow was timed at 3 seconds.


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Posted by Jay
a resident of Menlo Park
on Mar 9, 2009 at 9:10 am

My wife got a ticket there too. The timing of the yellow light is set to 3 secs, while it should be 4.5 seconds plus according to CA guidelines.

Has anyone fought it in the court?


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Posted by Sarah
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 9, 2009 at 9:26 am

The system is not perfect. I once got a red light photo ticket from Orange County, even though I haven't been there in 20 years. This one was easy to contest, though. I just sent them a letter saying it wasn't me and they agreed.

I believe the state law is 3.6 seconds for a yellow light on streets that are 35mph or faster. If the light is really 3.0 seconds, I would contest the ticket. There was a story in the news recently about someone contesting a ticket like this (in a north bay city) and winning.


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Posted by Anna
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 9, 2009 at 9:55 am

I've seen stories about red light cameras in other states where the timing of the yellow lights has been shortened to catch more drivers. These kinds of practices have been condemned as revenue raisers, rather than safety measures.

In fact, in a lot of cases, the people who sell the camera equipment have a revenue-sharing deal with the local agency and so have incentives to be very aggressive in setting up the systems - with a view to revenue, not safety. (In fact sometimes setting the yellow light time to short increases the danger as drivers unexpectedly brake harder than they would if the light timing was more normal.)

There was a story recently (I believe from Tennessee), where judges were throwing out tickets written by these systems, and how eventually public outcry forced the local agencies doing it to stop the practice.

I think it would be interesting to see if the light timing had been altered in conjunction with the camera installation to insure that more motorists were snared - and if the local government is in a revenue sharing agreement with the camera company. I'd think this would be a good basis for a challenge to the ticket. I guess you'd need a lawyer though.


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