Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Judge: Give back red-light camera ticket money

Are thousands of tickets given to Texas because of red light cameras invalid because vendors weren't properly licensed? A federal judge recently said "Yes," and that should be cause for alarm for cities who're already gleefully spending red light camera income and now may have to give it back.

According to KFDA-TV in Dallas, "A District Court Judge agrees with [the plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit], saying the [red light camera] company is operating illegally and should have to refund all fines they collected." That's a major victory for camera opponents if the ruling stands up on appeal. Both of the other companies operating red light cameras in Texas are similarly circumstanced.

The Dallas CBS affiliate quoted plaintiff's attorney Lloyd Ward declaring, "The money they have been kind enough to remove from the pockets of the citizens of this state, I think they should bring it back into this state and put it back into our coffers." See also coverage in the Amarillo Globe News.

Perhaps it was this legal development that spurred the release this week the Texas Department of Transportation's red light camera analysis, which claimed unusually high success rate at preventing auto accidents based on limited (and sometimes nonexistent) data.

If cities must give back all red light camera revenues generated to date, it'll put quite a hitch in their budgetary git-along, if you know what I'm sayin'. That's a lot of scratch!

22 comments:

Aaron said...

Thanks for keeping us up to date!

Anonymous said...

My mother was killed and father diabled by a driver who ran a red light and hit our car. We five kids were basically orphaned by the careless driver.
I am all for red-light cameras - they may save some other family from tragedy.
Instead of being anti-government, you ought to worry about the criminals running red lights and speeding. Yes, CRIMINALS! Traffic crimes are as deadly as any others crime!

Anonymous said...

Anon, first, please explain the connection between red-light cameras and saving "some other family from tragedy." Thanks in advance.

On Track said...

In Williamson County we have red light cameras and I see people run through red lights all the time. People who are driving to fast and won't stop for a red light aren't even looking to see if there is a camera. The camera doesn't even matter.
People who don't care about red lights simply don't care about red light cameras (they have somewhere better to be than we do)and that's all there is to it.

Anonymous said...

Let's just do away with anything that might make any of us safer than we are today.

Let's get rid of all of the municipal police officers, sheriff's deputies, and highway patrol. No more use of speed measuring devices and lets make it mandatory that all vehicles be equipped with radar detectors.

Let's abolish the use of intoxilyzers and blood and urine testing for DWI.

Because after all, according to you On Track, it does not matter.
And anonymous 3:25pm, your comments are cold and heartless.

Anonymous said...

According to the Amarillo article, a city attorney sais the state agency that regulates private investigators has ruled that a license is not required to operate red-light cameras.

I for one hope the cities prevail. If I run a red light and get caught, then I must suffer the consequences. By camera or cop, it does not matter.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

"If I run a red light and get caught, then I must suffer"

Huh - and here I thought this was about safety, not morality. Personally I prefer engineering solutions like longer yellow light times, countdown timers and traffic circles that reduce accidents instead of just fining people after the deed is done. I don't believe there's some grave moral issue here that demands punishment where technical solutions are available.

And to 4:29, the question you describe as "cold and heartless" is a perfectly sensible one. Don't confuse activity with achievement. If red light cameras increase injury accidents, as has occurred in some jurisdictions, then the good intentions of their backers don't really matter much.

The rest of your comment was of course, hyperbolic foolishness.

W. W Woodward said...

Red light cameras were installed to produce revenue. It is much cheaper to install a TV camera than it is to train and pay the salary of a traffic enforcement officer.

The cameras and accompanying fines didn't necessarily cost the actual driver who ran the light anything. The registered owner was the person who received the summons. The registered owner of the vehicle that ran the light was the one who was unconstitutionally presumed guilty and had to prove his innocence.

I am glad to see the red-light cameras go and hope the city governments who intimidated people into paying fines disguised as administrative costs have to pay back every penny, with interest.

Anonymous said...

With so much trash added to the post, how can anyone even bring thoughtful comments?

Trafficnerd said...

Most serious injury crashes happen over 6 seconds into red. These crashes are typically not prevented by cameras. Most violations and citations occur in the first 1.0 seconds of red, usually before many motorists have even perceived that the light has changed from yellow to red, and before the light on the conflicting approach has turned green.

Anonymous said...

I am fighting a "red light camera" ticket right now. The intersection where the camera reported to be is facing north/south and according to the ticket I was going east/west so how can the camera take the picture. Yea I am fighting it. I never run red lights, NEVER, because I was in a accident in Feb. 07 where my SUV was hit on the passenger side, spun 3 times and rolled twice and was totalled by a woman in a Lexus that rad a red light that left me with permanent injuries that her insurance didn't sufficiently cover, so I am extra careful at intersections.

On Track said...

"Because after all, according to you On Track, it does not matter."

Wow you went way out there. I am not saying people shouldn't be fined or ticketed or have there license taken away for breaking the law.
I am saying that from what I have seen in my own experience. Several times a week I see people running red lights where there are cameras so to them it DOESN'T matter.

If there were a patrol officer there I bet they wouldn't do it.

Cameras don't demand authority.

BTW: I don't run red lights because I care about not killing myself or others.

Anonymous said...

if someone is going to run a red light, then they are going to run a red light. nothing short of a steel net or poles that shoot up from the ground will stop this. (not to give DPS any idea mind you).

My wife was hit by a dude that was messing with his radio. She was in the green, he passed through a red light that had been for over a minute and a half. His F350 Pickup going 65 MPH hit my wife's small four door sedan at the mid-point between the doors, T-boning her car, totaling it. If not for my wife and child both sitting on the opposite side of the impact, I would be a very sad person today. Air Bags work folks, Red-light Cameras do NOT.

The Driver of the Pickup was NOT LOOKING at the road when the accident occurred (no skid marks), he failed to see the red light, the red light camera sign, and the nice little flash of the bulb when it gleefully snapped the impact picture of the accident. But most importantly, he did not see my wife's car in the middle of the intersection, carrying my wife and child on their way to school.

Red Light camera's DO NOT stop accidents, they generate revenue so that local police can install more red-light cameras and then claim that intersections have gotten safer.

Remember a locked door is not there to stop a thief, it is only there to stop the honest guy from making an error in judgment.

Anonymous said...

Until I'm shown otherwise, I believe the cameras are all about safety. And I am about safety. Suffering the consequences means accepting responsibility for my actions. I would not intentionally disregard a red light, but I am human and do make mistakes. And I would never blame a camera for causing me to disregard a red light or to have an accident.

Do you support banning the use of radar detectors by motorists?

Do support hands free dialing of cell phones while driving?

Or would creation of legislation be revenue generated also?

I just happen to think my safety is jeopardized by drivers using both. And I believe that if red light cameras decrease accidents at a particular location, then so be it. I suppose this is foolish hyperbole too, whatever the h... that means.

Benjamin Wright said...

This controversy is one battle in a larger, nationwide war between two professions: private investigators (PIs) and computer forensics experts. --Ben Details: http://legal-beagle.typepad.com/wrights_legal_beagle/2008/12/e-discovery-forensics-private-investigator-license-for-computer-data-collection-and-assessment.html

Anonymous said...

I would hope that if they have to give back all the ticket money, they should also erase that ticket from the driving record. Bet that doesn't happen. Insurance rates would have to be readjusted for the ticket removal when just one little ticket puts you over the edge and your record is bad enough for higher rates.

Anonymous said...

All you libbies, it ain't over til it's over. Excerpt from yesterdays Dallas Morning News..........

According to state District Judge Craig Smith, camera vendor ACS State and Local Solutions violated a section of the Texas Occupations Code, which states that unless a person holds a license as an investigations company, it has no authority to monitor intersections.

And lawyers with the Texas Department of Public Safety, which issues the investigative licenses, have said they don't believe such companies need to be licensed.

Civil, not criminal

Red-light camera violations are civil, not criminal matters. Citations in Dallas typically run $75 each and do not count against driving or insurance records. Cities generally receive a portion of the fines.

A Dallas attorney not associated with the case questions whether an individual can challenge violations of the Texas Occupations Code, as Mr. Ward has done. The agency in charge of licensing, in this case the Department of Public Safety, typically enforces the code, said Jim Harris of the Dallas firm Thompson and Knight.

And even if Mr. Ward did expose a loophole, the Legislature could patch it up when it convenes in January, Mr. Harris said.

"It's very hard for me to believe that the Legislature ever intended that there would be a need to license given all the restrictions on how [the companies] operate," Mr. Harris said.

Josh Weiss, a spokesman with ATS, says his company is looking to hire legal counsel and "will work closely with our partners on appropriate next steps to ensure this case is quickly dismissed."

Calls to Redflex were not returned.

Despite the ruling and pending lawsuits, Plano and Arlington won't halt their red-light camera operations.

"At this point as far as we're concerned, it has no impact on our operations, and we have no plans to make any changes," Plano assistant city manager Bruce Glasscock said. "We're going to continue unless our attorneys tell us otherwise."

Arlington assistant attorney Ivan Bland is closely monitoring the case.

"We're of course concerned about it, but we're not sure how it affects us," he said.

Dallas First Assistant City Attorney Chris Bowers said in a statement this week that the city was not involved with the Ward case.

"The partial summary judgment order ... does not affect the city's right to administer and enforce its red-light camera program, including collecting civil fines from violators," the statement said.

Texas Department of Public Safety attorneys' statement favors the red-light enforcement companies.

Their duties "are not the functions of an investigation company as defined by Private Security Act, and do not require a license under the Act," the statement said.

Mr. Bland questioned whether the companies should be labeled investigative firms, as the judge's opinion suggests.

"It's hard to believe that companies that do this stuff would be called investigators. I don't think they do investigation or prosecution. That's more of a criminal term and not a civil term."

According to the Occupations Code, "a person acts as an investigations company ... if the person: engages in the business of securing, or accepts employment to secure, evidence for use before a court, board, officer, or investigating committee."

Anonymous said...

Typical.....

Dallas attorney Lloyd Ward filed the original civil case against ACS after his wife, Amanda, received a citation in 2007 from Dallas and ACS. He also filed the class-action suits after the judge's ruling.

Anonymous said...

Under this lawyers argument, evidence from police radar, video cameras, outside DNA labs, etc would require a licensing under the Occupations Code. What a loser.

In my opinion, this a frivolous argument. And since it's frivolous, perhaps this lawyer will be required to pay the defendant's costs for having to defend this claim.

Anonymous said...

Hello from Conchoinfo.org We have in our community Greg Mauz, one of the earliest and best informed observers of RLCs. He contributed info to Sen. Corona when Chap. 707 was being drafted.

RLCs are ALL about money. In practice, they actually increase intersection hazards. The standards for yellow intervals reasonably call for longer yellows as speed limits go up to avoid panic stops and rear-end collisions. In case after case where RLCs have been installed, we see the yellow interval DECREASED by a second or more.

I suppose one could call this "economic development", it creates lots of body shop work and boosts the "take" on the civil liabilities.

That civil liability bit was genius on the part of the RLC companies. Capped at $75, no points on the license, case to be heard, if one fights it, by an ALJ who is often a RLC employee, the average driver is going to write a check instead of taking a couple days off to fight it.

Another trick: as civil, no it can't cost a driver the license, BUT, the local tax assessor can refuse to renew the registration for a vehicle with an unpaid "civil liability".

The first TXDOT report is about as unbiased as "two wolves and a sheep discussing the dinner menu". Risks are hyperbolized, benefits are exaggerated when not "imputed" out of whole cloth, data from cities not operating under the Chap. 707 safeguards is freely used. The bibliography of citations reads like a directory of RLC companies.

San Angelo had the good fortune to have a city manager who rejected the RLC companies' urging to act before 707 was put into law. Not to mention Conchoinfo feeding our Council members some straight skinny. Now the RLCs have a striking lack of interest in San Angelo. Their concern about public safety seems to have evaporated as the profit margin diminished.

Anonymous said...

To the person who implies that "all you libbies" are in favor of the cameras:
http://www.aclu.org/privacy/spying/15718pub20010821.html

"Liberal" is not just a word for a set of bogeymen you imagine that disagree with whatever you (presumably a self-identified conservative) believe.

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