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High Percentage of Photo Radar/Red Light Tickets Being Dismissed

By Brian Maass

DENVER (CBS4) - As battles against photo red light cameras and photo radar continue on both the local and state level, CBS4 found that a large percentage -- as high as one in every three such tickets -- are being dismissed in Denver.

According to a City of Denver database, for 2015 at least 83,000 of those kinds of automated tickets were canceled for everything from poor camera images to out-of-state plates to gender mismatches between the vehicle registration and who was photographed behind the wheel.

Photo Radar
(credit: CBS)

In 2015 of 21,037 photo red light tickets issued in Denver, at least 7,701 were canceled. Of the 207,880 photo speed tickets last year, CBS4 found at least 76,875 were canceled.

Ted Porras, Photo Enforcement Supervisor for the City of Denver, confirmed the high percentage of ticket cancellations. Many come due to poor image quality from the red light and photo radar cameras -- they just can't be sure who the driver was. But Porras said about half the time, the person photographed behind the wheel isn't actually the registered owner of the vehicle and that ticket is subject to cancellation.

Ted Porras
City of Denver Photo Enforcement Supervisor Ted Porras (credit: CBS)

"You can send correspondence back to us to tell us you are not the driver and we usually accept it if you are not," said Porras.

But here is the key with these tickets: If the owner of the vehicle wasn't behind the wheel and refuses to "nominate" or name the person who was driving, the ticket will be dismissed.

"It gets canceled, yes," acknowledged Porras.

The same thing happens with people driving rental cars in Denver. The ticket is sent to the rental car company. They could refuse to identify who the driver was and that ticket would be canceled. However, Porras said most rental car companies will nominate or identify who was driving.

Photo Radar2
(credit: CBS)

It's the same situation with fleet vehicles. Since the company is the registered owner of the car, the ticket is sent to them. If they refuse to nominate or identify who was actually driving, the city will drop the ticket. But Porras said many large companies with fleet vehicles do identify their drivers.

"You have the option to nominate someone, it's not a requirement of the law," said Porras. "I think a lot of people take the responsible road and nominate the person who was driving."

Porras told CBS4 that about 10 percent of the time tickets are dismissed due to poor photo quality brought on by weather conditions, sun glare or reflection.

Photo Radar1
(credit: CBS)

The ticket supervisor also said that red light and photo radar tickets issued to vehicles with out-of-state plates are dismissed. He said it would cost the City $5 to send a certified letter out of state.

"We can but we don't," said Porras.

The City of Aurora has similar policies to Denver. For fleet and rental plates, Aurora will send two notices to the registered owner. If the company does not nominate a driver, the process ends. However, Aurora does issue violations to owners of out-of-state vehicles.

CBS4 was on hand last December when Dan -- who asked his last name not be used -- planned to fight his Aurora red light ticket. But the assistant city attorney dismissed the citation immediately saying he couldn't be sure the photo taken by the red light camera was actually Dan.

Dans Ticket
Dan's photo radar ticket (credit: CBS)

"I'm happy it was thrown out," said Dan. "Because of the conditions at nighttime they were unable to identify me."

But Aurora prosecutors told CBS4 that kind of dismissal for a poor photo image is relatively rare.

In Sheridan, city prosecutor Andy Ausmus said he routinely dismisses half of the red light or photo radar tickets that are being contested by drivers.

"Of a normal docket ... 12 to 15 people; I say it's not unlikely to have five or six of them get dismissed."

That's what happened to Gayle Engel. Sheridan photo radar appeared to catch her speeding through a school zone during daylight hours. But the picture was murky, and when Engel protested, Ausmus dismissed it.

"I think photo radar is crap," she said. "I feel great, I'm glad I did it. I don't want to give them $80."

Andy Ausmus
Sheridan City Prosecutor Andy Ausmus (credit: CBS)

Ausmus said, "If I get any doubt its them in the picture I'll dismiss it, so a lot of times they win."

He went on to say he routinely dismisses red light tickets issued to drivers of rental cars or fleet vehicles because he cannot prove who the driver was.

Back in Denver Porras said many drivers have figured out ways to fool red light cameras and photo radar cameras. Some will drop their visor down to obscure their face, others will simply put their hand in front of their face as they dart through an intersection.

RELATED: Top 5 Most Common Places To Get A Photo Radar Ticket In Denver

Porras said red light tickets per capita are decreasing because people have become more aware of the red light cameras. But he said there is still one night of the year that's the most challenging for red light ticket administrators.

"Halloween is crazy," said Porras. "Because some people wear masks."

CBS4 Investigator Brian Maass has been with the station more than 30 years uncovering waste, fraud and corruption. Follow him on Twitter @Briancbs4.

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