Drivers can legally avoid paying red light camera citations in Colorado

DENVER -- The city and county of Denver is considering expanding its revenue stream by investing $500,000 in new red light cameras, according to Mayor Michael Hancock’s budget proposal initiatives.

But drivers don’t necessarily have to pay a red light camera ticket, according to legal experts.

In Denver, Aurora and elsewhere, city governments are cashing in millions of dollars collected from red light camera citations. Drivers receive the citations in the mail after a camera captures license plate numbers.

Many drivers consider the operation a scam. Others said the cameras make dangerous intersections safer. Regardless, paying up can be avoided.

“Before you are served, it is not a violation,” attorney Jude Ramirez said.

Ramirez represents members of a major Colorado bus drivers’ union. Colorado law requires drivers only have to pay a red light camera fine if they’re served notice of the violation in person within 90 days of the alleged offense, according to Ramirez and other lawyers.

After 90 days, Ramirez said the citation goes away.

“There have been stories of people [from the city] knocking on doors [to serve summons] at about 6 a.m., so you do have to be aware,” Ramirez said.

In lieu of sending a city representative to a driver’s door, lawyers said a second notice could come by certified mail.

If a driver signs for that mail within 90 days of the alleged offense, they are expected to pay. If the driver doesn’t sign or accept the certified mail, lawyers said the fine is no longer valid.

If served by a person or through certified mail, experts said the ticket remains civil, not criminal. The ticket will never add points to a person’s driving record, Ramirez said.

Drivers who are properly served and do not pay could be reported to a collection agency and receive a negative impact on their credit rating.

Denver has not announced when or where potential new cameras might be installed. There are four red light camera locations in Denver:

  • Sixth Avenue and Lincoln Street
  • Sixth Avenue and Kalamath Street
  • Speer Boulevard and Eighth Avenue
  • Quebec Street and East 35th Avenue