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Error Slams Traffic Tickets Into Reverse

Costa Mesa has to void hundreds of citations issued to red-light runners caught on camera because the yellow signal didn't last the required 4.3 seconds.

June 12, 2004|Arlene Martinez | Times Staff Writer

Hundreds of drivers have a pleasant surprise coming in the mail from Costa Mesa: They can forget that old ticket they got for running a red light near Triangle Square.

That's because the yellow light for traffic headed north on Newport Boulevard at 17th Street was set to last seven-tenths of a second too short.

As a result, cameras designed to capture red-light violators illegally slapped citations on 579 motorists over five months, Costa Mesa police said in a statement.

For the 200 drivers who have already paid the fine, a refund will be issued, and their convictions will be overturned.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday June 17, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 34 words Type of Material: Correction
Red-light cameras -- An article in Saturday's California section said more than 2,000 tickets were invalidated last year after red-light cameras at a Culver City intersection malfunctioned. The intersection is in East Los Angeles.

The remaining citations will be dismissed.

Drivers had only 3.6 seconds of yellow -- rather than 4.3 seconds as required by law -- before having their cars photographed. The amount of time a light must remain yellow is determined by the speed limit, which at that location is 45 mph.

Cameras were installed in October 2003, but the mistake was not discovered until February, police said.

Officials could not be reached to explain how the mistake was discovered and why it was not announced until June.

The incident is at least the third in recent years in which Southern California police departments have had to refund or invalidate traffic violations caught on camera.

More than 2,000 tickets issued at a Culver City location were invalidated last year after officials realized the cameras started snapping while the light was yellow.

And in 2001, a judge in San Diego threw out nearly 300 citations after ruling there was a conflict of interest: The camera's operators were paid based on how many tickets were issued.

The Santa Ana Police Department, which installed cameras at 11 intersections a year ago, hopes to avoid such mistakes.

"We check our intersections twice a month, making sure the signs are up and that the system is operating [properly]," Sgt. Kevin Brown said.

Craig Steckler, the police chief in the Bay Area city of Fremont and past president of the California Police Chiefs Assn., said many cities have found the cameras effective.

In Fremont, officers check their 10 monitored intersections regularly to ensure yellow-phase times are in compliance with state law, Steckler said.

"We were put on notice after the San Diego case," he said. "It's inevitable mistakes will be made."

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