Wednesday, April 18, 2012

An Out-of-Money Experience

In November, I got two red light camera citations exactly one week apart at an intersection I traverse every day to get on the freeway after visiting Flip. I was distraught. Each of them required a "bail" amount of $480, so I hired a lawyer who specializes in such cases at a cost of $300 per citation. She suggested that I handle the second one myself to save money, which I did. Today I learned that we lost the first case for which I had legal representation, and I will have to pay the bail plus an additional $57 for the privilege of attending driving school to avoid points on my license and higher insurance.

I was ticketed for turning right on red without stopping long enough. They had video to prove it. Our argument was that I could not identify the driver of the car which is registered to me as the driver did not look like me, plus she was wearing sun glasses which obscured much of her face. The red light cameras have been ruled illegal in some places including other parts of California, but not here. I must assume at this point that I will have to pay for both of them - if a lawyer couldn't get me off on the first one, I will probably not succeed with the second. It is a horrible waste of money, and enough that it will create a hardship for me. Yet oddly, I am not as upset as I was when it happened because watching Flip's raging dementia advance has made me realize what we all espouse but don't really believe: It's only money. Losing ones health or ones mind is far worse. Still, I know that for a month or so, I will compare the price of everything I would like to buy with the money this round of bad luck is costing me, and I will be sorely resentful.

The exact same infraction costs $50 in New York and Virginia, I've been told by friends who were also ticketed. $480 is obscene for turning a few seconds too soon when no one was even hurt. Every day I see people drive badly and dangerously under the influence of drugs and alcohol, texting or putting on makeup, none of which I do. It seems terribly unfair, but I will try to focus on how lucky I am to be able to get in a car and drive somewhere on my own because at the end of the day, there are far more unfair circumstances.


Secret Agent Woman said...

Wow, that is crazily expensive. It's a $50 ticket here, too, and I got nabbed once. But they've since stopped charging for right on red and only ticket for running red lights (which actually is a hazard). It would make so much more sense to go after people who are doing things like drunk driving and texting while they drive. I'm sorry you are getting stuck with these ridiculous fines.

Bob said...

It is a money-maker for the city. The city where I work put up a stop sign on a crazy, back alley street and proceeded to post a policeman in a parking lot at that intersection and wrote a metric butt-ton of tickets for people who not only ran the stop sign - but rolled it or didn't quite stop before turning right. My office overlooks this intersection and I lost count of how many people were written up. The city took advantage of the new sign - no warnings at first, they went straight for $300 tickets.

Its a money machine for the city.

English Rider said...

I'm sorry you have additional problems to face. I do believe you can ask for a payment plan and spread out the financial burden, or pay part and ask for an extension. It's more a case of learning the right vocabulary so that you get a positive response. Good Luck.
I have a horse riding acquaintance who is a Judge in San Mateo County. I'll ask her on Friday, if that might be helpful.

Cro Magnon said...

I just received a speeding ticket for my youngest son with a choice of 3 fines. It would cost €48 if he paid at once, €85 if he paid in 14 days, or €180 if he contested and failed.

As he was in Bali at the time of the infringement, I shall pay none. The fine was for speeding between Rouen and Paris!

$480 seems an awful lot. I suppose it's the easiest way of raking-in the cash!

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Oh, me, too. Yeah, boy. I agree with the logic of ticketing only for running a red light, and these fees are really mean-spirited besides.


Yep, it's unconscionable how they are raking it in. To say nothing of disgusting.


Although theoretically they accept payments, in actuality they demand it all by a certain date, in this case early June. From a
psychological standpoint, I think I'd prefer to bite the large bullet and be done with it instead of getting angry again every time I write a check. But thank you so much for your kind offer.

Cro Magnon,

Unless your son is able to bilocate, it would be very hard for him to break the speed limit in France all the way from Bali.

Yes. $480 (doubled) does seem like an awful lot, especially considering that I am a careful, safe and even polite driver.

nick said...

It's outrageous to impose such massive penalties for such an utterly trivial so-called "offence". Those states levying $50 have got it right. As you say, how about focusing on all those seriously reckless drivers who're actually risking other people's lives?

Bob's right, it's just a cynical money-making machine.

the walking man said...

It is a way to raise taxes (or fees for driving) without saying they are raising taxes or fees for driving. I looked and the most expensive citation in MI is $285--that's for causing an injury accident, careless driving.

Both the woman who hit me and broke my neck and the man who hit me and caused me to get the implant received a $50 dollar no appearance "failure to yield" ticket.

I am curious though how the $480 would get split, how much to the city, how much to the court, how much to the state?

This whole shit bag mess isn't about how you drive or how safe you are or aren't but like others have said, it is an income stream for the authority. Now you know, put a sticky note on your dashboard and when you come to that intersection stop and say your ABC's before you go. Remember to stay BEHIND the stop sign when you do stop and you feel yourself moved slightly fore and aft when you stop. That way you know you are in fact stopped.

When you go to court I doubt the whole it doesn't wasn't look like me thing would work. That's probably the most common excuse. Without getting to clever I would use the "I felt myself stop, because after the first ticket I am now rigorous in my awareness of stopping especially at that intersection" defense. Then ask for a trial by jury. That I think you'd win.

Jo said...

Speaking of tickets, am going to start buying lottery tickets, and when I win, you can have half. And then pack your suitcase, because we're off to Paris. You have more than earned a well-deserved (!!!) vacation.

PeterAtLarge said...

Your bad luck is a timely caution for the rest of us. So sorry you have this additional cause of vexation.

CiCi said...

I am having trouble wrapping my mind around the amount of the penalty for not making a complete stop. If it were an unsafe turn or no stop at all, maybe a much smaller fine would be appropriate. But I agree with some of the comments that this is another scheme for the city to make money. When I was still in southern CA, four years ago I got a ticket for the same thing and apparently so did too many other people who did not rest until the cameras were removed in that city. I am so cussing in my head right now, upset for an additional crappy situation you have to endure. Damn.

mischief said...

That really seems like an incredibly stiff fine for such a minor infraction. I'm sorry you didn't win your case but I still have my fingers crossed for the second one, just in case. Hugs to you.

Maria said...

I would be more upset about the woman wearing sun glasses who was not me. I think I would be inclined to show up at court and do some foot stomping over that.

But, I do know that your time with Flip is precious and that this seems like something not worth your attention at this point.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


I never doubted it. All traffic fines in the Bay area are obscene and unconscionable.


I'm horrified that the people who caused such damage to you got off so easily.

I thought of the same defense but decided it would backfire to draw attention to the fact that I have multiple identical infractions. Since I got these, I don't turn right until the light turns green unless there is someone honking behind me. And then I do take my time.


You'd better win that lottery fast because I'm already packed and have my running shoes on.


I am more than a tad displeased myself over this fresh hell.


California is a very mean state in many ways unless you are very wealthy.


Thanks for the crossed fingers! Years ago I represented myself in court and won:

But I am not actually appearing here. It is being handled by mail, which is not terribly encouraging.


And we all know who the woman in sunglasses really was. I am my own evil twin.

Paula said...

So sorry you lost the first case. Everything is cheaper in AR than in CA, but I can't fathom such high fines for something that was not reckless and harmed no one.

Fortunately, around here we don't have the camera nonsense, and though small towns have a reputation for being ticket happy, the police report for my little town shows they give as many warnings as tickets. They seem to mostly ticket people who are wantonly breaking the law and are a danger to others.

I wish they wrote MORE tickets---to people on the phone while driving, and those aggressively tailgating people who are going the speed limit, etc. Not people who actually stop and look around before proceeding just because they didn't stop enough seconds. It is so absurd.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


You are preaching to the choir. That is my position, too. And I just learned that (a) I have to take a written and vision test before my birthday in June to renew my license and (b) that I am supposed to report for jury duty tomorrow -- I just received the notice Thursday and sent in my excuse (Flip) on Friday w/o noticing the date of service. They usually give at least 6 weeks notice. I am mightily sick of bureaucracy.

NoRegrets said...

So sorry! I will be sure to stop completely next time I'm in San Francisco. I am glad you are able to put things in perspective.

Anonymous said...

$480 seems like a good amount for a sofa or a used car but not a traffic ticket. And I agree with you that your infraction (if was indeed you) is really minor on the great scale.

Is there a great scale, I wonder?

I wish you could ask to pick the judge next time -- it is a democratic society, after all -- and then send the state an invoice for the wasted time you spent in court.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

No Regrets,

This occurred in Oakland (East Bay) but be very wary anywhere in the Bay area. Think of me as a cautionary tale.


Have you noticed how nothing ever seems to work in favor of the "little person?" (Not that I'm little, you understand.) These camera citations are now illegal in many places because there is no live person involved but the hapless driver. Our legal system provides that when accused of a crime, you should be able to confront your accuser in court, but in this case, it's a machine.

Anonymous said...

That is so shitty and, as you say, when you see the way some people drive and get away with it, it's infuriating. I got one a couple of years ago for doing a 'rolling stop' at a stop sign in my neighborhood at a very quiet intersection. The cop was unwavering. Had to get that old quota up, I guess.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


My last traffic ticket before these two was for a rolling stop in TN in 1992. The cop was also adamant.

"Slow 'n' go don't get it," she said.

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