Hit Texas Drivers
Cities and private
contractors cash in
on red light camera ticketing systems
in the name of "public safety."
AUSTIN, Tex. April 25, 2007 -- A new boom is
taking place across Texas that may improve public safety at busy
intersections but is certain to make governments and private contractors
loads of money: the "red-light camera." Red light cameras
mark the first step toward "photo-enforcement" of traffic
laws in the state, and may lead to "speed cameras" and
the eventual issuance of fines for various other traffic violations
caught on camera.
The Daily Texan reported (April 10, 2007) that
Austins Department of Public Works will be doing a red
light camera pilot program for a couple months at two intersections
(the corner of Riverside and Pleasant Valley being one of them).
They will test the cameras to make sure the technology works according
to plan and identifies vehicles correctly so that each fine can
be mailed to the appropriate address.
City of Austin employee David Gerard said, The
whole intent behind a red light photo enforcement system is to reduce
red light violations to improve the safety of our intersections,
and said the cameras reduce the number of front-to-side crashes
that can occur when someone runs a red light.
Sgt. Jim Beck, president of the Austin Police Association,
says red light cameras are important for increasing the safety of
Austin intersections: Whatever we can do to improve public
safety is worth a try.
Round Rock is expected to install several red-light
cameras soon as well. Round Rock City Council approved their red-light
camera revenue program on March 8. According to the Austin American-Statesman
(March 22, 2007): City officials say that they have not heard
from any residents opposed to the program.
David Bartels, Round Rock public works administrator, said, The
camera system uses technology that is already in place at intersections
to monitor traffic flow, usually a camera on top of the traffic
signal or an electromagnetic loop in the street that senses metal
from the car
If either of the two detects that a car is in
the intersection after the light has turned red, a photo is taken.
A second photo captures where the vehicle is moments later. The
photos are time-stamped.
The last fatality caused by someone running
a red light in Round Rock was six years ago, said police department
spokesman Eric Poteet.
Round Rock Mayor Nyle Maxwell says, the
program will pay for itself, and other cities experiences
provide proof. For example, Plano police Lt. Jeff Wise says in the
year since the camera system was installed, the city of Plano has
collected $600,000 in fines while the private contractors who run
the system have earned $225,000 of that total paid by drivers.
Enforcement of red light violations with these cameras
is getting even more stringent in some places. The Dallas Morning
News reported that starting this April, even police and firefighters
in Dallas will have to pay a fine if they run a red light at a photo-enforced
intersection, and cant prove it was a justifiable emergency
measure. Many police officers are understandably miffed about the
policy, but apparently private companies who manage the red light
camera billing system have felt short-changed by Dallas emergency
personnels freewheeling ways.
The Morning News reported: Any Dallas police
officer in a marked squad car who is captured on the citys
cameras running a red light will have to pay the $75.00 fine if
the incident doesnt comply with state law. Firefighters who
run red lights will have to pay if theyre not on an emergency
Since last year , 39 cameras have been placed at
intersections, city officials said. Sixty cameras are scheduled
to be up and running by May 22
Since mid-January, the cameras
have recorded at least 355 emergency vehicles running red lights.
Innocent people are also getting caught in the net
of this widening camera-ticketing revenue scheme. According to the
Galveston County Daily News (April 15, 2007), Richard Gregory says
he has been falsely accused of running a red light by the city of
Dallas. He received a ticket in the mail with photos of a black
Acura 32T running a red light nine days before, and according to
the ticket, the license plate of the car in the photo matched that
of Mr. Gregory. However, Richard Gregory says he has never owned
an Acura, doesnt currently have a black car, and was at home
in League City (hundreds of miles away from Dallas) at 7:15 a.m.
the morning when the violation occurred.
The Daily News reports, In Gregorys
case, the ticket was issued to him because his license plates seemed
to match the photo, even though the black Acura clearly didnt
match the white Chrysler the plates were registered to. Mr.
Gregory has pointed out that the officer who signed off on the photo-enforced
ticket mistook an N for an M on the license
plate and said, ... customer service representatives told
him he has to come to Dallas to prove it wasnt his car.
Smaller cities are also embracing photo-enforcement
of traffic. Red light camera ticketing was introduced in El Paso
in October 2006, while Longview installed surveillance cameras this
April and Lufkin is planning to set up cameras in late May.
The town of Kerrville is seriously considering installing
red-light camera technology along the highway that passes through.
I think you could pay all the bills of Kerrville if you could
do that [set up photo enforcement technology] on Texas 173,
said Kerrville Mayor Gene Smith. Kerrville police chief John Young
said the city is still gathering data from vendors and that cameras
might be installed at two to three intersections later in the year.
The Kerrville Daily Times (April 11, 2007) reported:
Today in Kerrville, cameras are mounted on traffic signals
along state highways, but those cameras monitor traffic and are
not the same technology used for issuing citations for running red
[red-light camera] devices capture both digital pictures
and video of the intersections. The vendors own the equipment and
are responsible for issuing citations, training officers, and camera
The cost to the city would be either a percentage
of each citation or a per site cost
The traffic signal cameras
also may record speed and can be used in other investigations, Young
Suburbs of Austin such as Georgetown, Cedar Park,
and Leander are also in the early stages looking into
red-light camera installation. One report indicated that, unlike
other towns, Hutto has decided they dont have enough red light
violations to justify the installation costs.
In Tyler, police chief Gary Swindle told KLTN that
his city is waiting to find out what state legislation passes because
if a new law is not passed, the existing traffic code may make these
camera-issued fines illegal.
DOES PHOTO ENFORCEMENT
Aaron Quinn of the National Motorist Association
questions the public safety benefits of the red light
camera system, noting a Virginia DOT study
increased in camera-monitored intersections because drivers were
more likely to slam on their brakes and get rear-ended.
According to the Kerrville Daily Times (April 12,
2007), a 2006 study regarding red-light cameras in Winnipeg, Canada,
and the 2005 study by the Virginia Department of Transportation
mentioned by Mr. Quinn showed a 58% increase in wrecks at intersections
with the cameras in the two years after installation. Both
studies found a decrease in the number of people running red lights
and wrecks caused by running red lights, but more incidents of rear-end
collisions resulting from people slamming on breaks to avoid running
If the cameras do not keep people safer at intersections,
why are so many being installed across the state? Kerrville doctor
Randy Moody said the cameras do little to improve public safety
but are very profitable for the companies that provide them.
The Winnipeg study which dealt with the public safety
benefits of red-light cameras showed the cameras had generated $15
million in revenue for the city and private vendors who manage the
system, and this may be the real reason for the push to install
KEYE-TV in Austin voiced the concerns of a rising
number of drivers about the sudden lurch toward draconian photo-enforcement
of traffic laws, reporting on April 3, 2007 that, cities insist
they need the high-tech tool to control dangerous intersections
and protect public safety, but that, local leaders might
also try to use the photo traffic cops as an electronic speed trap
to fill up the citys bank accounts.
Mr. Quinn says the red-light camera revenue programs
are often farmed out to private companies to make money off giving
tickets. This is taking enforcement of laws out of the hands
of real people
If you put it in the hands of private companies
that have an incentive to send out more tickets, youre twisting
Attorney Michael Kubosh said, Its a
money grab. Its not about public safety. Its about revenue.
Mr. Kubosh filed a lawsuit in February against the city of Houston
after purposely running red lights at camera-controlled intersections
so he could challenge the use of the new revenue machines. He said
his Houston ticket was mailed from Arizona and has a payment address
in Ohio, indicating out-of-state private interests are profiting
from the supposed increased public safety at Texas intersections.
State Rep. Carl Isett of Lubbock has filed
a bill this session that would ban the use of red light cameras,
and many say there is wide support for this bill. State Sen.
Mike Jackson (R-La Porte) also argues that cities do not
have the legal authority to use the cameras and that they should
Two years ago, there was a chance the legislature
would ban camera-issued red light tickets outright. On Feb. 28,
2005, the Texas House voted 113-23 to block all city governments
in the state from using cameras to fine red-light runners. The bill,
HB 259, sponsored by Rep. Gary Elkins (R-Houston) would have
eliminated the civil citation loophole that had been around for
two years. However, the Senate did not pass the bill so the ban
did not become law.
RED LIGHT CAMERAS IN THE LEGISLATURE
The Texas Senate has passed two bills in 2007 granting
specific permission to cities to mail out tickets using traffic-enforcement
cameras to the owner of any vehicle involved in a recorded violation
and setting the maximum fine at $75.00 for the first red light violation
captured by a camera.
In exchange for state legalization of the red light
camera technology, municipalities will have to give up half of the
spoils from the tickets to the state government. Senate Bills 1119
and 125 (both authored by Sen. John Carona of Dallas) give
the state government a new stake in turning money-making photo-enforcement
of traffic into a way of life.
Sen. Carona said, We have to decide whether
we put a lasso around them [traffic cameras] to make sure they are
responsibly used, or whether we dont want to have them at
the genie is out of the bottle and he said it is
time to regulate (legalize) the use of photo-enforced traffic tickets.
According to the Statesman, Under Texas law,
running a red light is a Class C misdemeanor that can be regulated
only by the state
In 2003 legislators rejected a bill giving
cities authority to issue criminal citations to red-light runners
caught on camera. But they approved a change to the transportation
code that year allowing civil tickets.
Rep. Linda Harper-Brown (R-Irving) inserted
the provision to allow municipalities to issue civil citations using
cameras to regulate traffic. Shortly after the passage of the new
regulation in 2003, Garland, a suburb of Dallas, became the first
Texas city to set up a red-light camera revenue program.
LEGAL CHALLENGES TO PHOTO-ENFORCED
There have been a series of legal decisions across
the U.S. ruling that tickets issued to vehicle owners with computerized
camera systems are illegal according to state motor vehicle codes.
Many have ruled these camera-issued red light tickets
illegal because they automatically attribute the violation to the
vehicle's owner, and not to the driver who committed the moving
violation, and because it sets a double standard where camera-issued
tickets are civil citations (fines) while a police-issued ticket
is a misdemeanor, and thus has more serious repercussions.
On April 5, the Minnesota Supreme Court unanimously
ruled that tickets issued using traffic cameras in Minneapolis are
against the state constitution. "The court argued that Minneapolis
had, in effect, created a new type of crime: owner liability for
red-light violations when the owner neither required nor knowingly
permitted the violation." Traffic violations in Minnesota only
apply to the driver who committed the violation, not to the owner
of the vehicle.
In early 2007, Michigan attorney general Mike Cox
"declared the use of red light cameras or speed cameras within
the state to be illegal
Cox found that state law established
red light running as a criminal violation, so that any local ordinance
declaring such a violation a civil matter would be 'in conflict'
with the law."
Iowa judge Gary McKenrick has also ruled that camera
systems in Davenport, Iowa, are illegal because drivers should be
given a criminal citation for the violation, not a civil citation,
according to Iowa's motor vehicle laws. Since August 2004, over
10,000 red-light tickets and 20,000 speeding fines have been issued
in Davenport using photo-enforcement cameras.