Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login

I got a red light ticket for a car I no longer own. I have a receipt of electronic transfer of title dated 6 months before the incident, passport stamps and travel documents proving I was out of the country, and the person in the photo was of the wrong gender and ethnicity.

I fought it via mail. It took multiple round trips. At each step the potential fine more than doubled. If I did not respond correctly or in time, I waved my right to appeal. The appeal paperwork contradicted itself. (Page 1: You must do X or we will reject your appeal. Page 2: You must not do X or we will reject your appeal). I had to send a passport photo less than 30 days old of myself in, but photos taken with electronic cameras are not allowed.

In the end, I sent a letter. The city of San Francisco is not obligated to inform me of a successful appeal, so either I beat the ticket, or some day (maybe years from now) they will issue a warrant for my arrest.

This isn't even guilty until proven innocent. 100% of the evidence presented against me proved my innocence, and I will be in legal limbo forever.

[edit: In a special kafka-esque twist, the only reason I was able to fill out the paperwork successfully is because the telephone operator at the SF courthouse took pity on me. There is a number to call for clarification, but no one picks up that phone. So, your best bet is to get your legal advice from the operator.]

One more thing (since I might have the attention of a windmill-tilting pro-bono lawyer): I donated the car in question to KDFC. The SF red light proceedure for people in my situation has the accused track down the current owner of the car (which is not necessarily the person it was first transferred to), which means I needed to get in touch with an out of state auction house that sells the cars for the radio station.

This happens all the time, and the radio station has a department to deal with these issues. If you call the car donations hotline, and ask for the red light ticket helpdesk, you will be transferred to someone that might be able to help bootstrap a class action suit. I suspect this situation is the same in most states.

For other Californians selling or donating cars, a crucial step is to complete a "Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability" form. details at:


but the key language is:

> Protect Your Liability. Complete a Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability. The seller is responsible for reporting the change of ownership to DMV within 5 days from the date of sale. After DMV updates the information from the Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability, you will be cleared from future liability on the vehicle. The purchaser is responsible for reporting the change of ownership to DMV within 10 days from the date of purchase.

Being liable for a traffic ticket is one thing, but imagine being thought liable for a hit and run collision.

Here is some of the documentation from the SF court:


(There are more, contradictory instructions that they mail out with the ticket)

Their database of car registrations is not regularly synced with the DMV, so they routinely send citations to people that do not own the car in question.

There is no process for "the bureaucracy screwed up", so they won't accept a copy of the liability transfer reciept as proof you are no longer liable (nor will they simply contact the DMV).

Of course, since you have no idea what the new owner is up to, you can't provide the information required to contest the ticket.

At this point, things get progressively more bizarre.

This is a giant scam to screw the public out of more money. Call your congressperson, make a petition, make a big deal publicly out of it, go to the press, dig up as much dirt as you can; if the people don't make the authorities do their job right, they'll continue to use us as exploitation resources.

What part of this designed to increase income, in your opinion? It seems to me that revenue remains constant whether they fine the previous owner or the new one.

Taking the path of least resistance of course, it is easier to extort the person on their file than getting out of their way to find the real culprit.

> What part of this designed to increase income, in your opinion?

Not making the information on general contests (rather than a few narrow cases) readily available makes it more likely that people that rely on only the county site for information won't contest tickets (thinking that there is no procedure available for their circumstance), which reduces costs associated with contested tickets.

> There is no process for "the bureaucracy screwed up

There certainly is, whether or not SF County actively provides it to you.

In any case, the state does provide it.


Turn it on them and declare it was stolen. Either they accept the transfer or you are legally the owner and declare it stolen. Go to the police and report the car stolen. That would create such a cluster$uck for them maybe they'd be more inclined to work with you.

> Turn it on them and declare it was stolen.

So, you'll be guilty of perjury with clear documentary evidence, but get out of the traffic infraction. Likely pyrrhic victory, there.

Definitely do that. Just don't be surprised when the courts don't honor it. The paperwork was correct for me (and I can prove it), but that wasn't enough to "clear me from future liability".

I traded my car in, and one of the forms they had me sign was this. 6 months later I got a call from the DMV saying my insurance lapsed. I told them as much and they said that it's a common tactic by dealerships - they have you sign it then never send it in, because they don't want to be liable for the car even though they own it. Totally scummy.

You should submit the form online. It takes less than 5 minutes.

>The seller is responsible for reporting the change of ownership to DMV within 5 days from the date of sale

And if you sell your car to a dealership (i.e., give it away for pennies because you don't want it anymore) and they say they will do this step for you, assume they are full of shit.

I sold my old Toyota to DGDG in San Jose. I specifically asked them about this step (having experience with the equally kafkaesque Texas Toll Systems) and they told me they'd take care of it for me. Sweet.

Six months later I'm getting letters about toll violations. I dispute them with proof, dismissed. I did this five times for various toll violations until finally I bugged the dealership enough for them to get around to fixing it. But their first response was: "Don't worry about it, if they come in the mail, just ignore them." Uh..

Don't ignore them! That waves your right to contest the tickets!

So the fact that you no longer own the car is not enough to release you from liability from it? Typical "may cause cancer in the state of California" style regulations. Glad I don't live there anymore

Where do you live that you don't have to notify the DMV of a title transfer in order to be released from liability? When I sold my Dad's car in South Carolina, I had to collect the license plates (called "tags" there) and physically return them to the DMV with the required paperwork.

Pretty much anywhere with a sensible idea of what liability means. When the car is gone, you're not liable for it.

This year a car I used to drive was involved in a serious accident. I sold the car 7 years ago, the owner was just driving it illegally without registration. A few minutes on the phone with the police officer and it was cleared up.

so far I can't find a single state where you don't have to notify the DMV of a title transfer. I don't agree that this is some crazy "only in California" type of deal.

I don't know about cars, but I had this happen with a boat that I sold in Florida. The buyer is supposed to register the boat. The registration sticker did not expire for another year. So, they didn't bother to pay the fees.

When I went to the DMV a few months later to renew a car registration, they thought that I still owned the boat. They said it happens all the time. I had the bill of sale to sort things out.

I don't know if it's still the case, but it used to be in Virginia that it was the buyer's responsibility to notify the DMV; the seller signed and handed over the title; if the buyer never registered the car it would be completely possible for the DMV to not have record of the transfer in that case.

While not required, the seller can also mail back their registration with a notice of sale (there is a small form on the back of the registration card, if I remember correctly).

Looks like Virginia is currently one of those states where you have to turn in the license plates -- so how would the camera ticket get to you? https://www.dmv.virginia.gov/vehicles/#selling.asp

In California, the plates stay with the car (unless they are vanity or you are attached to your plate number)

I never said it was "crazy", you inferred that yourself.

In Texas in the late 90's my father sold a car which was involved in a hit and run the very next day. Luckily a simple bill of sale was enough to keep him out of trouble.

> Being liable for a traffic ticket is one thing, but imagine being thought liable for a hit and run collision.

Why would car ownership be anything but a very weak piece of evidence in such a case?

I would hope.

This was wayyyy before red light/speeding cameras existed - I was 17 under mom's insurance. Car insurance calls mom saying my car was involved in a hit-and-run, a bystander took down the license plate of the hit and run car, my license plate. This hit and run also happened in the town I lived in. Totally plausible and even provable it was me, or at least someone driving my car.

My car, however, at that time was about 250 miles away... Being towed, as the shitbox I drove broke down, again. I had the tow truck receipt to prove it.

I honestly don't know what ended up happening, as at 17 I wasn't handling this kinda stuff. I guess the tow receipts proved it wasn't me. Or maybe it was a different make/model/color than what was registered with the DMV. Anyways, I never heard about it again. Of course, nobody went after me for a crime, it was the insurance who cared in this case, not the police. I don't know how long this took to resolved or how much of a pain of the ass it was to deal with.

I just find it very frightening that, when you looked at it from afar, it seemed so obvious that it was me even though I was totally innocent.

In a case of mistaken car identity (as opposed to correct car, but incorrect driver), there are even better sources of evidence: hitting someone usually leaves traces on the car (bent buffer or hood).

Years ago when red light cameras were new I remember hearing a comedian say "The city sent me a photo of my car running a red light and a ticket for $100. So, I took a photo of $100 and sent that back to them with the ticket".

That's completely silly but it sounds like it was just as effective as your efforts so far. Hope you get it sorted some day.

I remember the story ending with "they sent back a picture of handcuffs, and so I sent the actual money"

Help a confused european: do you guys not have a car registration system, wherein when you sell a car the buyer has to go and register himself as the new owner before he gets registration plates and can drive the car?

How could the city not know who the owner of the car is?

Over here photo tickets follow a simple rule: if it's your car, it's your responsibility to know who's driving it. When you get a ticket, you either name the driver, or you pay it yourself. But I haven't heard of anyone getting a ticket for someone else's car.

> How could the city not know who the owner of the car is?

Because frankly the city doesn't care about change of ownership. Many cities (probably most in California, and SF for sure) are totally disconnected from helping citizens. They really neither interested, nor in business of helping you out. They BELIEVE you did something wrong and that's enough. Most of the time they are right and that's enough of a fuel for a SF budget committee not to allocate budget to helping few citizens out of majority to "make it right" for them.

An interesting story from an App that made it simple to fight wrong tickets. Who would have thought that SF would give you wrong ticket or that they would be in wrong generally? You not supposed to be well-informed either. At the end, they got frustrated by all people who lawfully and willingly were submitting claims via Fax and just simply... unplug their fax machine!

When Fixed began faxing its submissions to SFMTA last year, the agency emailed the startup to stop using their fax machine. When Fixed pointed out that it was legal to do so, the agency simply shut off their fax.


>Because frankly the city doesn't care about change of ownership. Many cities (probably most in California, and SF for sure) are totally disconnected from helping citizens.

Eh, Boston isn't in California but from what I gather most of the populace has contracted whatever California has so it may as well be.

Wow! Can we at least have an app that pays the fine using pennies?

There are two parts to it. The seller notifies the state that they have sold the car, and the buyer has to register with the state that they bought the car. Taxes are due when the buyer registers with the state, so guess which part doesn't get done as often?

If the seller forgets to send in the sell notification and the buyer flakes out on registering the only person they know to pursue is the seller. Hopefully the seller has a signed bill of sale so they can point the finger further down the ownership chain.

All of that assume there are plates on the car. If the seller left his plates on the car, well, that was a mistake. If you sell a car private-party, you should take the plates off. It's on the buyer to ensure the car is properly tagged. Most states off short-term tags for just this reason (transporting newly purchased cars that haven't had registration updated).

>If the seller left his plates on the car, well, that was a mistake.

That's not always the case. In some states the plates are "owned" by the vehicle, not a person and are transferred with the vehicle on sale.

In California the plates stay with the car, not the owner. Other states are different.

I did not know that. That seems like a terrible idea for exactly the reason we're discussing this. Does CA have a web site available where a seller can relinquish ownership? If not, it seems the time between the actual sale and one or other of the seller or buyer going to the DMV would have the car in legal limbo wrt ownership.

It is indeed a terrible idea to have thhe plates follow the car. There is a website, but it only updates the DMV database in a timely, the database the city police / courts use can be > 6 months out of date.

In Indiana, the plates stay with the owner. Yet you can relignquish ownership of a vehicle either in the office or online. I'd not be surprised to find out that other states have a similar option.

You usually need to show up in person to register a vehicle. If you intend to buy a car and drive it to a different state then you may not be able to register it in the origin state because most state stipulate that you can't register a vehicle if you do not reside there or have an address there (otherwise people in small shitty states would drive a couple hours to an adjacent state to save a few hundred on tax/registration/insurance). Registering it in the destination state would be similarly impossible without the title/bill of sale in hand and some states require an inspection prior to registration. Inspections stations need to be licensed. This means it's in some cases impossible to legally buy and drive a car bought private party because you can't register it where you buy it and you need have the car inspected before registering it where you're bringing it.

Depending on the states in question the fine for invalid registration is usually much less than the cost of having the unregistered vehicle towed from A to B so many people just slap an old plate on the back and cross their fingers.

Are there no exceptions for driving directly to a closest inspection place? In canton of Zurich, this is the AFAIK only case when you can drive without license plates (if you want to register your car and the DMV wants to inspect it, you can drive it plateless to DMV).

Most states in the mid-Atlantic region will issue 24-hour or 7-day temp tags for just this purpose (transport a new-to-buyer car from out-of-state).

Yes we do. But 50 states, 50 different motor vehicle bureaus. Not to mention D.C. Plus Puerto Rico etc.

Some states have an excellent DMV. Others suck. It depends.

No states have excellent DMVs (or BMVs, or IDS) some states just have worse ones than others.

You've used the DMV in all 50 states?

The BMV near me has been nothing but cheerful and helpful and I've done a few transactions that are off the beaten path. Wait times are usually 0-40min and it's in a strip mall so you can do your shopping while you wait. I do live in the middle of nowhere by SV standard though.

I've had a DL in 7 states so far. Yes some were good. Your mileage may vary though.

DMV in New Hampshire is fine. It wasn't until I got to Silly Valley that I learned that what they eventually showed in Zootopia is true.

Part of it is just due to population density. They need to increase the number of DMVs by about 10 to get a reasonable distribution for the population.

Wrong. Also, in NY, there is a state DMV, 57 county DMVs, and the NYC DMV. County DMV offices are run by their respective county clerks, though they do tie into the state computer systems. Many of them are fantastic.

I've had a pretty good experience with the DMV in TN. I know others who haven't, but I have.

Yes. But, it's not uncommon (though not a good idea) to sell a car with the plates on, so the buyer doesn't have to go to the DMV before purchase.

I think it is uncommon, if not rare. It's a terrible idea, and depending on the location and circumstances may be illegal.

> When you get a ticket, you either name the driver, or you pay it yourself. But I haven't heard of anyone getting a ticket for someone else's car.

Or you pay a fine for not naming the driver. Which makes sense, because if you're unaware who was driving (or not willing to say), why should you be punished for speeding/running a red light, as opposed to not naming the driver.

I would imagine in the US, the fifth amendment would protect you from having to name the driver.

It varies from state to state. You typically have some type of title document. When you sell your car, you sign the back with the sale value. You have to do this very carefully because if you sign the wrong part or screw something up, you have to go to the county clerk, sign an affidavit and pay for a new title that you can then sign over properly.

Some states require that the title be notarized (signed and sealed in front of a notary public who verifies your identity) which can be done at a bank at transfer time.

In both cases, the buyer is responsible for registering the car (at which time they'll pay sales tax on it. The seller will usually print and fill out a bill of sale. It's best to get this notarized too along with the title).

Unless you fill out one of the forms mentioned in the comments, the car will still be listed as belonging to you until the buyer registers it.

Not everyone complies with registrations. Compliance is especially low amongst the poor, ethnic minorities in large cities, and the wealthy elite in California.

Hey, sorry to be off-topic, but your post does not have a downvote button for me. The rest do, and I do not want to downvote you, but I am curious as to the 'why not?'.

older than 24 hours, the others aren't.

I am going to chance another downvote to say: Thanks for the clarification.

I don't disagree, but why would a non-poor ethnic minority be less likely to follow the law?

Or a non-ethnic minority poor... my best guess would be some cultural distrust of government?

In California, the license plates stay with the car, and as people mentioned, there's a system to notify the DMV of ownership changes. Also, when you buy a new car, of course you have to register with the DMV and they mail you the new license plates... which takes the usual 6-8 weeks or whatever. In the meantime, you just drive the car around with no license plates.

> buyer has to go and register himself as the new owner

As you've described it, you're depending on the buyer doing the right thing.

I didn't realise he sold the car with his old registration plates still on. That seems silly.

How is it silly? That's normal, in my experience; the plates transfer with the car. Do you live in a place where one must obtain new plates immediately after purchasing a car?

> That's normal, in my experience; the plates transfer with the car.

What? No they do not. The plates stay with the person not the car. You can transfer the plates from car to car as well.

> Do you live in a place where one must obtain new plates immediately after purchasing a car?

Where do you live that you don't????

Are you sure that in your state plates transfer with the car? What state is that, because I would like to look that up.

That's not true in California, at least. Plates stay with the car unless they're vanity plates.

This is the part that confused me the most. Why wouldn't they just make the new owner get new plates? It's completely trivial.

Apparently you are not allowed to (supposed to?) keep the plates in CA. At first, I thought the new owner was using the plates illegally.

Costs some $

And it costs the seller money to get new plates for his new car. Somebody in the transaction will have to buy new plates.

Different states have different laws:


They do in California.

Presumably that simple rule has some kind of exception for when your car is stolen?

There's an episode of The Simpsons where Homer gets a parking ticket. There's a number to call. He calls. "Press 1 to appeal your ticket." He presses 1. Immediately the IVR system replies, "Your appeal has been denied. Thank you." and hangs up.

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact