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I returned from a trip to the US today. While there my husband and I drove a rental car and were careful not to drive too fast. We drove in California, Arizona, and Nevada.

At least in California there were frequent signs about speed being checked by radar or aircraft, but I am unsure how the process of getting a speeding ticket works in the US. Are you always stopped by the police and get your ticket in person or is there an automatic process like in Germany where a picture of the car and license plate is taken and you get the ticket in the mail a few weeks later? Most of what I found on the web read like people talked to the police when getting the ticket, but I was unable to find a definite answer. So, does not being stopped by the police mean we are in the clear here?

  • Unfortunately, not necessarily, and not easily checked. Various localities have had Speed Cameras approved and installed. Most are marked, some well, some not at all. The only way to know you got caught, is as you say, the picture in the mail. In your case, it will go to your Car Rental company, who may or may not look up the car's contract at the time and forward the bill on to you. (Before you ask opinions on paying the fine or not, there are multiple questions here about that very topic as well. :) ) – CGCampbell Oct 24 '14 at 18:04
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    Don't worry about it until your receive a notice. – Karlson Oct 24 '14 at 18:05
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    I'd also comment on speed checks by aircraft are either very rare or non-existent these days; the signs just haven't been changed as they are viewed as a no-cost way to encourage obeying the law. – CGCampbell Oct 24 '14 at 18:08
  • So, in principle these cameras do exist? I was very surprised to never see them - the German ones are pretty obvious. – YviDe Oct 24 '14 at 18:10
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    @user10495 In US they are obscured they may simply look like a traffic light or a regular traffic cam. But again I won't worry about tickets until you receive one. – Karlson Oct 24 '14 at 18:24
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Are you always stopped by the police and get your ticket in person or is there an automatic process like in Germany where a picture of the car and license plate is taken and you get the ticket in the mail a few weeks later?

This depends on where you are speeding. The vast majority of speeding tickets happen via speed traps (that is, a radar trap) and not by speed cameras.

Most of what I found on the web read like people talked to the police when getting the ticket, but I was unable to find a definite answer. So, does not being stopped by the police mean we are in the clear here?

This depends entirely on where you were driving. Generally speaking, if there are no speed cameras in the area, then to get caught speeding you have to be either:

  1. Observed speeding by a radar gun/trap.
  2. Be observed speeding by pacing (this means, they are following you and you are speeding).

Either way, you are stopped by the police. Having never been stopped by the police in Europe, but having done so in the US a few times this is the normal procedure:

  1. You are pulled over to the side of the road.
  2. Do not get out of your car.
  3. Keep your hands on the steering wheel (don't start reaching for your documents/licence/wallet); ideally in a position that is visible (ie, at the top of the wheel).
  4. The officer will approach the driver's side and ask you for your documents, only then should you start reaching around for them.

They will tell you why they stopped you.

You will be asked to present a driver's license and proof of insurance. If the officer writes you a ticket you generally have to pay at the court house for that county. You can ask the officer where to pay the ticket if you are unfamiliar with the area.

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    In some countries in Europe and elsewhere, it is common to pay the speeding fine to the officer who pulled you over, or you may be escorted to the police station to pay the fine. This does not happen anywhere in the US. – Michael Hampton Oct 26 '14 at 15:02
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    @MichaelHampton Some 15 years ago I was going with a friend (he was driving his car) from Philadelphia to New York. We were pulled over on NJ turnpike for speeding (pacing). The officer didn't approach - but instead requested via the loudspeaker that the driver approach the police car. My friend was told that he was going 84 mph in a 65 mph zone and that he'll get the ticket. However if he agrees to pay on the spot, in cash only, then they will only issue the ticket for doing 72 mph. No questions, he refused and took the ticket for 84 mph - where it was clearly seen 72 corrected to 84. – Aleks G Oct 26 '14 at 20:36
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    We went to court and presented that ticket and recounted what happened - and the ticket was annulled. – Aleks G Oct 26 '14 at 20:37
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It varies by state. In some states, speed cameras are not allowed; in others, there are speed cameras. You can see lists of camera enforcement laws by state from reputable sources here and here.

For your case, there are no speed cameras in California or Nevada. There are in Arizona.

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