If you have received a red light camera ticket, or other traffic camera ticket issued in Washington, there are a few things you should know. As annoying and unfair as these tickets seem, there is some good news. Camera tickets (i.e. school zone speeding and red light tickets where the evidence is video from a "traffic safety camera") are treated by the courts in the same ways as parking tickets. The court does not report the ticket to DOL. This means that camera tickets have no affect on your insurance or driver's license status.
Currently, "Traffic Safety Cameras" can only be used to issue the following tickets: Speeding in a School Zone, traffic light violations and toll booth infractions. There have been movements to expand the use of these ticket for other reasons, such as Speeding tickets outside school zones. Most recently, the Seattle Police Department made a strong push to allow use of the camera images for criminal investigations. This would be a huge expansion of their use as Washington's traffic camera law prohibits the storage and use of images of the driver for any purpose. So far the legislature has decided to continue protect individual privacy.
The law creates some evidentiary problems because the image of the driver is not allowable evidence to show who was actually driving. Washington, (including Snohomish County) addresses this problem by creating a presumption of guilt and an affirmative defense. The registered owner is presumed under the law to be the driver who committed the violation. Thus, the registered owner is automatically issued the camera ticket. However, if the registered owner was not the driver, he or she can submit an affidavit to the court indicating that someone other than a registered owner was driving.
Every court has some form of the affidavit to fill out and provide to the court indicating you were not the driver. Two things you should know about these. First, you must sign the affidavit under penalty of perjury. It's not worth committing a felony just to avoid a small fine. Second, you DO NOT have to identify who the actual driver was. All the forms I have seen have a place to give the information of the actual driver and most are written to imply that this information is necessary. Washington law, however, does not require you to give this information.
In my opinion the best strategy for these tickets is:
(1) If you were not the driver, fill out and submit the proper affidavit to the court;
(2) Ask the court for a mitigation hearing. Most courts will reduce the fine if you ask.
Considering the relatively low fine, the cost of a traffic ticket lawyer (or your time in appearing on your own behalf) and the fact that these are not reportable to anyone (other than the collection agency if you don't pay) it is my opinion that it usually makes the most sense to submit a request to the judge to lower the fine, pay the ticket and move on. Remember this is coming from a person that makes a living fighting tickets and is not in the habit of discouraging people from hiring our firm to fight their tickets.