Would You Fly to a Distant City to Fight a Traffic Ticket?

Imagine renting a car in a city which is far from where you are based. You return the vehicle to the rental car facility prior to traveling home. Three weeks later, you receive in your office a citation for allegedly running through a red light, with the cameras at the scene twice photographing your vehicle which you were driving in the process of committing the infraction. The fine is $125.00.

Do you travel to the city to fight the traffic ticket; or do you simply pay the fine?

Would You Fly to a Distant City to Fight a Traffic Ticket?

The answer may not be as clear as you may think.

The aforementioned scenario is what recently happened to FlyerTalk member geometry, who has admitted to being the driver in the vehicle at the time the cameras photographed the incident; and yes, the vehicle did indeed move past the white line on the pavement into the intersection at the time the traffic light was red…

…but a representative of the local police department confirmed that what geometry did was legal and permitted, which was turning right after stopping for the red light. Furthermore, geometry has proof in the form of footage of video from a dashboard camera which clearly shows that the vehicle had come to a complete stop behind the white line for 2.5 seconds prior to turning right — as well as picked up the reflection from the flashes of the cameras — and two other cars were at the intersection at that time.

Despite having the necessary proof to fight the citation, the evidence must be presented in person in order for the matter to be officially dismissed — meaning that geometry must travel back to that unidentified city prior to the deadline in order to emerge victorious in this case. The lowest cost for a flight — assuming it is round trip — is $323.00.

In Support of Traveling to Fight the Ticket

Depending on the reciprocity agreement of the two jurisdictions involved in scenarios such as this one, an admission of guilt by simply paying the fine could result in being recorded on an official record from which an automobile insurance company can use as a reason to raise insurance rates — which could easily exceed the cost of travel and use of time.

Because being charged with passing through a red light is usually considered a moving violation in many jurisdictions, that could result in “points” added to a license record — and if the motorist is just one infraction away from having his or her driving privileges suspended, traveling to the city to get the charges dismissed could be worth the time, money and effort to avoid that significant inconvenience — regardless of the cost of travel.

If that infraction qualifies as a misdemeanor, that could mean a criminal record which could adversely affect other major aspects of the life of a person — including insurance rates, credit rating and worthiness, and employment.

“I would fight it on principle as these kinds of money making actions by departments will only grow as they’re shown to be successful revenue streams”, FlyerTalk member Yoshi212 posted. “My hometown had two installed and they were removed within 9 months for the number of challenges that were brought and how quickly judges were to dismiss tickets.”

From which rental car company the vehicle was rented could also be a factor, as the administrative fees from some rental car companies with regard to traffic violations can be significantly more costly that those from other rental car companies.

For die-hard collectors of miles, points and elite level status who are members of frequent travel loyalty programs, the travel would generate a minor return on investment — but certainly not enough to logically justify the cost of the trip.

In Opposition of Traveling to Fight the Traffic Ticket

In addition to the cost of a flight, the chances that the courthouse being within walking distance from the airport is highly unlikely; so the cost of ground transportation must be added to the total cost of travel.

Another consideration is what exactly is the total cost of travel: if the appointment to be in court is at a time which is either too early for the first flight of the day to arrive in time or too late after the last flight of the day has already departed, this means an overnight stay from which the cost of lodging and meals must be added — as well as any incidental expenses. That could significantly increase the total cost of the trip.

Speaking of cost, opportunity cost plays a role as well. A flight of 1,100 miles can easily consume two hours each way — which does not include ground transportation, time in court, and any delays due to mechanical issues or weather which could occur. Figure on a minimum of seven hours. If geometry typically earns $25.00 per hour when working, that is at least $175.00 worth of time which could be used more productively — or perhaps geometry would much rather simply relax at home and engage in rest or partaking in a hobby.

Infractions such as parking tickets are not considered moving violations and therefore may not have as significant an impact on a driving record — usually, paying the fine is the worst of the penalty — but that could depend on the jurisdiction.

Hiring a lawyer who is local to the city which issued the citation to represent geometry is also an option — but that will also incur a cost; and exactly how much depends on the attorney.

Summary

Two thoughts which geometry posted in the aforementioned discussion seemed odd to me.

“When I pressed on and asked if it was a malfunction for the camera to take pictures and send out tickets to anyone making legal right turn on reds, I was told that the cameras take pictures of *all* cars crossing the white line when the light is red, even when the driver is making a legal right turn on red”, according to geometry. “It’s up to the officer who review the photos to make a determination.” Something is not quite right with this. I have turned right while the traffic light is red at intersections which are equipped with traffic cameras in numerous cities; and I have never received a notice of violation of any type because turning right on red is permitted.

The second thought seems significantly more nefarious: “…‘for local residents, they can just come in and request the administrative judge to review the photo and have the matter dismissed…’ They would NOT accept anything sent using regular mail or email to fight the ticket, so I can’t just send them my dashcam videos”, geometry continued. “Is it just my imagination or are they counting on this profit from out-of-town drivers who are unjustly sent these tickets?”

I get that local governments are strapped for revenue and turn to resources which are designed to add much needed cash to their coffers; and anyone who is caught violating the law should be appropriately disciplined for their actions…

…but there is no excuse for a local government to force a person who supposedly abided by the law to have to be significantly inconvenienced unnecessarily — as well out of pocket a certain amount of money which can be hundreds of dollars — all because of unfair enforcement practices, which I find unacceptable. Policies and actions such as those described in this article erode the trust of the local government by its constituents — as well as help to deter travelers from wanting to visit that city again in the future and spend money which is sorely needed.

Some people would call what happened here a legalized scam — and I would have a difficult time arguing with that conclusion…

Photograph ©2011 by Brian Cohen.

2 thoughts on “Would You Fly to a Distant City to Fight a Traffic Ticket?”

  1. GC says:

    I agree – these definitely feel like a money grab for localities across the nation. If someone is manually reviewing each one, they either weren’t doing their job well or saw that this was a “likely to pay” kind of case and issued the ticket. Regardless, the system wasn’t designed to properly identify errant drivers within these intersections.

    On the other hand, red light camera tickets are usually administrative fees/fines and generally do not appear on a driving record, much like parking tickets. Check the municipalities and state’s laws on this issue first, however, as if that is the case it would make more sense to just pay up.

  2. Tony says:

    Paying a lawyer to fight this for him would be cheaper than buying a plane ticket.

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