We have all seen them: large, looming, fixed photo radar cameras at intersections or along well-traveled roadways, or the mobile photo radar van that seems to appear out of nowhere. We all probably know someone who has received a photo radar ticket, or quite likely have even received one ourselves. So what are you to do if you receive that unwelcome ticket in the mail?
First of all, you need to be sure that what you received is in fact a ticket. When photo radar tickets are reviewed and issued, there are certain areas that need to be checked off before the ticket may be issued. For example, can you see the person driving the vehicle, or is their face partially or fully obstructed? Were they actually speeding, or in the case of a red light violation, were they in the intersection before the light cycled to red? Does the driver match the registered owner of the vehicle or a licensed driver that lives in the residence where the vehicle is registered? Was the equipment and camera functioning properly?
In the case where the driver does not match the registered owner or someone that resides in the residence (yes, they will check for all licensed drivers at the address on your registration), many municipalities will send out a “Notice of Violation” that essentially informs you that someone, they don’t know who, committed a violation while driving your car. In most instances, they will have a photo of the person driving, as well as information relating to time, date, location, and alleged speed of the vehicle. What the Notice is seeking is information on the driver, and requesting that you provide that information, presumably so that they may issue a ticket to the person that was driving your vehicle. As the owner of the vehicle, you are under no obligation to provide information on your visiting relatives, or the neighbor that borrowed your car that one time. Admittedly, you were not the one driving the vehicle, so you cannot be issued a ticket and no action can be taken against you for not responding or providing information on the person driving your vehicle. Unlike a parking ticket, photo radar tickets are not the responsibility of the registered owner of the vehicle unless he or she was driving the vehicle.
Let’s assume you were driving and you received in the mail a wonderful photograph of you driving with that look of surprise on your face at being flashed by the camera. The ticket you receive should state at the top Traffic Ticket and Complaint or some variation. The ticket will have your information obtained from the MVD, and will contain the date, time, location and alleged speed. The ticket will typically contain instructions on what your options are, which include: pay the fine, send in a request for a hearing, or attend defensive driving school, if you are eligible (FYI: in Arizona, you can now attend Defensive Driving School once every 12 months instead of every 24 months).
If you received the letter in the mail not registered or certified where you had to sign, or if it was not served by a process server to you or someone that resides in the home, you are not obligated to take any action on the ticket unless you are actually served with the ticket or if you mailed an acknowledgement back to the court that you had received the ticket. In Arizona, you must be served with the photo radar ticket, or return an acknowledgement to the court that you received the ticket, which essentially waives the service of process requirement. If you do nothing when you receive the ticket, the court has 90 days from the date the ticket was issued, not the date of the actual violation, to either get you served with the ticket, or receive a waiver of service from you and an acknowledgement of receipt of the photo radar ticket. If you are not served within that 90 day period, the court on its own may dismiss the ticket, or you can seek a dismissal for lack of service.
Keep in mind that if you are served, many courts will send the ticket out to a process server, and the court may impose the process server fee incurred to get you served. In most cases, that ranges from $50 to $100. Even if you are served, in most cases you still have the option to attend Defensive Driving School (if you are eligible), or you can pay the fine and be done with it, or request a traffic hearing to contest the ticket. If you decide to take the “wait and see approach” and see if you are served, keep in mind that under Arizona law, anyone of “legal age and discretion” residing in the home may be served on your behalf. That can be a spouse, child, roommate, or friend staying with you for a while.
In some courts, the prosecutor may ask the court to permit what is known as alternate service of process in cases where the process server has made attempts at service, but has been unsuccessful. If the court grants alternate service, that can include permitting the process server to merely post the ticket on your door, and mail a copy of the ticket along with the Order permitting alternate service to your address. Therefore, if you believe that a process server is attempting to serve you, speak with whomever is living at your home so that you are informed if someone else is served on your behalf, or if the ticket is posted outside your door.
Now for the disclaimer: As always, circumstances and situations may differ in your case, and for any legal questions or issues it is best to speak with a knowledgeable attorney to discuss your circumstances and options. The information contained herein is for informational purposes only, and is not legal advice.