Want to fight that red light camera citation? HNN analysis find you’ll face an uphill battle

Oahu’s new red light cameras have led to hundreds of citations since the program began in November.
Published: May. 15, 2023 at 5:40 PM HST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Oahu’s new red light cameras have led to hundreds of citations since the program began in November.

To learn how the citations are holding up in court, Hawaii News Now reviewed the first 100 ― and found nearly half have led to default.

When a citation from a red light camera is issued, the owner has 90 days to respond.

So the final outcome of the first 100 issued in November and December took into the spring. Thus far, the citations are holding up in court, although 40% never even got a response.

HNN obtained videos used to issue the citations and looked closely at one owner took his case to trial.

The video of the violation shows the lights change to red before the Honda enters the intersection. In court, the vehicle’s owner claimed it wasn’t him driving.


“So I feel as if it’s unfair to point me as the person that did the infraction at that time,” the owner told District Court Judge Shellie Park-Haopili.

But under the law, it doesn’t matter who’s driving. The photos don’t even show the driver, which was explained in court by Traffic Division Officer Siaosi Saelva, who reviewed the photos and video before signing off on the citation.

“It doesn’t see the person driving. It doesn’t see anything. It just sees the vehicle with the license plate,” the officer testified. The judge agreed that was sufficient and the owner was convicted and ordered to paying $97.

That’s the same amount as others who accepted responsibility for violations.

The citations offer owners a chance to challenge or explain the violation with a written statement.

One woman wrote that her sister was driving the car and in a hurry. The judge still found her responsible and ordered the same payment.

The only dismissals were when people could prove someone else owned the car and that happened only three times in the first 100 cases. Fifty-eight of the citations were upheld or paid ― pretty close to a 60% success rate,

State Transportation Director Ed Sniffen was pleased to hear that figure.

“I’m ecstatic with that,” Sniffen said. “I think that’s a very high rate.

Sniffen said in other jurisdictions, the early conviction rates were closer to 40%.

It’s unclear exactly why 39 owners did not respond to the citations, which are sent out in regular mail.

In addition to pending transfers of owners, it’s possible people have moved from the address where their vehicle was registered or there is more than one owner with different addresses.

If still unpaid, they will be referred to the Judiciary’s collection agency and “stoppers” could be placed on the vehicle, which would prevent it from being annually registered.

A stopper could also be placed on the registered owner’s license, which would block renewal.

With those additional penalties in place, Sniffen said the success rate can only improve.

“Once it gets back through the registration cycle we will catching a lot more of them there,” Sniffen said.

But some of the cases could be complicated. Among the citations were two city buses. The citations were mailed to the City and County Department of Transportation Services.

The department told Hawaii News Now it intends to pay all fines from red light cameras assessed on their vehicles.

A spokesman said bus and Handi-Van drivers are trained to anticipate light changes, but also have to avoid hard braking, which can injure passengers.

Meanwhile, defense attorney Patrick McPherson, a specialist in DUI and other traffic cases, said he is looking for potential challenges to how the system was engineered, which could force the state to document many aspects of the installation, timing of lights and equipment maintenance and calibration.

“You’re talking like hundreds of payments of documents they have to provide,” he said.

McPherson doubts the cameras are protecting anyone because the lights for crossing traffic don’t change at the same moment when the stop lights go red.

“You are going to be through the intersection before the other lights change,” McPheson argues. “Therefore nobody’s going to get hurt -- the only person going to get hurt is if someone is jaywalking.”

Even if the challenges come, the state is already looking into installation of speed and noise cameras next ― if the state Legislature gives the green light.