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X is sitting at a red light (in the US). Another car (driver Y) behind X swerves around X to drive through the red light. X's vehicle has a recording dashcam which captures the license plate of Y's vehicle as well as showing the clearly red light. X sends the video of the incident to local law enforcement.

Is the dashcam evidence admissible in a traffic violation proceeding, and can the evidence be used to issue a ticket against Y?

I understand that this may be somewhat locale-specific, and various states do have policies regarding use of video cameras for automated traffic enforcement, use of dashcams, and the admissibility of dashcam footage in court (generally provided by the defendant to prove innocence or police to prove guilt). However, the laws are somewhat imprecise regarding:

  1. What sources of video footage are admissible for traffic violation enforcement?
  2. Can third-party tips and willingly-provided evidence of illegal driving be used to raise traffic violations? Perhaps in certain states?
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    How does X know that Y was driving? Maybe they loaned the car to Z... Jan 30, 2023 at 20:51
  • Obviously in UK but still interesting / relevant
    – DerekG
    Jan 31, 2023 at 15:11
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    @MichaelHall That's not really that relevant. Owner of vehicles are supposed to know who is using their property so if they aren't the driver they should be able to produce the information of the actual driver. This happened to me in the yearly days of my license where I committed an infraction and my mother had to send a copy of my driving license. If the owner is unable to provide justification it's correct that they retain responsibility.
    – GACy20
    Jan 31, 2023 at 15:45
  • @GACy20, not true everywhere. Jan 31, 2023 at 15:49

3 Answers 3

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If a police officer reviewed the footage and then went out and issued a citation in person to the offender, this could probably be used. Many states limit tickets issued by mail based upon camera evidence alone. But, while some state laws have specific requirements, but in general, authenticated video recordings are admissible evidence in court proceedings, and a citizen complaint can be a basis for initiating a traffic offense prosecution.

To prove some offenses, like speeding, dashcam evidence of a third-party may not be very good evidence, but for running a red light or a stop sign, it could be powerful evidence.

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Washington state law regarding citations for traffic infractions is governed by RCW 46.63.030(1) under 5 conditions:

(a) When the infraction is committed in the officer's presence, except as provided in RCW 46.09.485;

(b) When the officer is acting upon the request of a law enforcement officer in whose presence the traffic infraction was committed;

(c) If an officer investigating at the scene of a motor vehicle accident has reasonable cause to believe that the driver of a motor vehicle involved in the accident has committed a traffic infraction;

(d) When the infraction is detected through the use of an automated traffic safety camera under RCW 46.63.170; or

(e) When the infraction is detected through the use of an automated school bus safety camera under RCW 46.63.180.

The exception in (a) pertains to ATVs. There is no officer present in the scenario, and no accident. X's camera is not an automated traffic safety camera or school bus safety camera. So the officer is not authorized to issue a ticket, in Washington.

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    Keep in mind that this is specifically for infractions. A more serious traffic offense (e.g. reckless driving) may be a misdemeanor or felony, and presumably in those cases, the third-party dashcam video would be fair game. Jan 30, 2023 at 22:27
  • @NateEldredge maybe, but it'd likely be thrown out in court because there's no documented chain of evidence UNLESS the camera and storage device were taken into custody before they could reasonably be expected to possibly be tampered with. It's far too easy to compose videos to allow something that's randomly sent as evidence for a crime.
    – jwenting
    Jan 31, 2023 at 12:02
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    @jwenting Would CCTV footage of a murder be thrown out for the same reason? Jan 31, 2023 at 12:08
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    @jwenting: Why should it be thrown out? It can be authenticated by having the driver of car X testify that it is indeed the recording from their dashcam, and that moreover it agrees with what they personally saw at the scene. Naturally, it will be up to the jury to decide whether to actually believe it, but why should they not have the opportunity to do so? Jan 31, 2023 at 14:18
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    A jurisdiction can set rules for what is admissible, and what conditions must be satisfied for courts or police to take a particular action. There are specific rules in Washington about infractions, and baked-in rules about camera evidence. Because the law does not have a provision for substitution of citizen-volunteered camera footage for personal officer observation, the evidence would not be admissible. You cannot go from that fact to any fact about admissibility of camera footage in a murder case.
    – user6726
    Jan 31, 2023 at 21:02
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Likely not, as a traffic ticket issued by a camera has to follow strict legal restrictions for the use (almost all of them have to make both the pictures and the footage available) and are not issued by the police (they are contractors who bid competitively to provide the service to the state). They also are civil offenses and not criminal in nature. Even if Police were alerted, the ticketing officer will typically have to see the violation happen, not a recording of it from a citizen, and they have little incentive to actually investigate the matter after the fact. The best you could do is alert 911 to a reckless driver at your location and they might report it to an officer who can be in the area to reasonably be on the look out, but again, it's not normally the highest of priority.

That said, it can be used for evidence in bigger crimes where, supposing Y's driving is related to a more serious crime, the footage can be used by police and prosecution to establish a time line of events. Suppose Y is suspected of a murder in the area, and the footage of his driving is a result of him fleeing the crime scene... the time stamp and the location and behavior, may be critical in showing that the suspect was in the area of the crime at the time the crime was committed (conversely it could rule him out, if it would be impossible for him to be at the intersection and the scene of the crime plausibly).

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  • This is a good initial response. Based on the stipulations you've detailed in your answer above, could a third-party "contracting" company sell dashcams and bid the ticketing service for traffic violations to the police? In this case they would have the footage available so this situation would be roughly analogous to those laid out above except that the cameras are in-vehicle rather than infrastructure mounted. There is strong incentive on the police side (to reduce demand on officers' time in dealing with traffic violations), incentive for the contractor, and incentive for the driver if
    – DerekG
    Jan 30, 2023 at 19:39
  • the contracting company provides a reasonable pricing scheme (i.e you are paid to share the dashcam footage with the contractor)
    – DerekG
    Jan 30, 2023 at 19:40
  • But question 2 still stands: could you provide a source for "the ticketing officer will typically have to see the violation happen" as this is clearly not the case for existing automated ticketing systems?
    – DerekG
    Jan 30, 2023 at 19:41

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