Tuesday, May 12, 2009

House would put stop to red-light cameras

Here's some surprising but welcome news: The Texas House on Friday amended its big transportation sunset bill to ban new contracts for red light cameras and to require cities to phase them out as current contracts expire. According to the Amarillo-Globe News ("Red light cameras dealt blow," May 9):

[Bill sponsor Rep. Carl] Isett has long opposed the use of the cameras at busy intersections - including at five in Amarillo - on grounds that they are money-making operations for local governments (the average fine is $75) and unconstitutional because the program doesn't allow motorists to fight charges that they ran a red light.

Isett has pushed this legislation for several years but usually has been met with opposition from lawmakers representing large metropolitan areas such as Dallas, Houston and San Antonio, which are municipalities that use the cameras. Dallas recently reported that it made more than $3 million ticketing motorists who the automated devices caught running red lights.

But this time that bloc of big-city lawmakers didn't hold the influence it once did on the issue.

The authors were pleased.

"Let's be honest with the public," Elkins said. "This is all about generating revenue for the cities, not about public safety."

In Houston, for example, at intersections using red-light cameras, accidents, mainly rear-end collisions, increased by 118 percent, Elkins said.

If the Senate approves the Elkins-Ortiz amendment in Isett's transportation bill - the TxDOT reorganization is a legislative priority this session - the phasing out of red-light cameras would be gradual, Elkins explained.

For starters, TxDOT, not local governments, would have jurisdiction over the devices. In addition, starting June 1, no more red-light camera contracts would be approved in the state, and existing contracts would not be renewed.

Carl Isett and Gary Elkins deserve huge kudos for their stalwart opposition to the cameras over the years on personal liberty grounds, and I'm glad to see them working across party lines with Ortiz and others to get rid of them. The amendment passed on a 107-36 vote.

In addition, they've crafted a particularly clever approach in case the Senate refuses to keep the amendment on. According to KBTX out of Bryan:

The Senate still has to look at the issues. The authors of the bill apparently have a back up plan if the Senate doesn't see Red like the House did.

Ortiz and Elkins have added this line to their amendment: "[TxDOT] by rule shall require that the change interval in a light equipped with a photographic traffic signal enforcement system must be at least one second longer than the minimum change interval established in accordance with the Texas Manual on Uniform Traffic Control

Ohio and Georgia have enacted longer yellow requirements to great effect. In Georgia, seven cities known to have lengthened yellows since January have seen violations decrease by 70 to 80 percent. A Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) study documented a 40 percent decrease in collisions after testing the benefits of increasing the yellow warning given to motorists before an intersection signal changes from green to red.

Requiring cities to lengthen yellow light lengths will reduce revenue dramatically for red light camera schemes and likely cause cities to eliminate them on their own. Everyone says they're about safety, but those data are inconclusive while what cities seem most excited about everywhere they're implemented is revenue from tickets. When that declines 40-80%, the cameras won't look nearly so appealing.

RELATED: Paul Burka dislikes a lot of the other stuff that made it into the DoT Sunset bill.


Anonymous said...

How about simply allowing the cities to cover the cost of the cameras and any excess money picked up beyond the cost of operation goes to the state (to pay for motorcycle training or defensive driving programs, for example)? Takes out the profit motive but still allows the city to use them for safety.:~)

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Do that and I'll bet they'd all be discontinued the next week, Anon. This is all about revenue generation.

Anonymous said...

My issue with all this is, They can do fact finding on something as stupid as red-light cameras, but will not look into any of the other laws that are simply 'control-freak' laws for the state government.

When the state lege moves forward and does fact finding for such things as the illegal immigrant deportation, the punitive Sex Offender registry, disallowing DNA evidence for the accused in major crimes, THEN I will actually pay something as insignificant as red-light cameras its due. Until then, I still hold nothing but contempt for the rulers in Austin. Public safety, bah.. Orwellian policies more like it.

Apple2k said...

@gritsforbreakfast I couldn't agree with you more, these things are cheap government money generators guised as public safety tools. It's ridiculous. The debate over these cameras is starting to get more attention in the media: http://www.newsy.com/videos/red_light_revenue/ and the more that is brought to light, the more negatives come out about these cameras and the police departments who benefit from them.

Anonymous said...

Maybe if they can get them to work correctly, I got a ticket last year and the Vehicle in the picture had the same liscence plate as the one on my Truck Hmmmmm.The company on the ticket didnt even check it verify that there may be more than one plate issued with the exact number on it.
I had to call the Local Police in Brownwood who faxed them a copy of my liscence plate number which was the same as the one they had on film and that almost didnt work.The Company stated that I should just pay the ticket cause it was not a Official ticket just a fine...They are not even Officers that issue these out they are employees for some company, The Vehicle in question was a rental car out of Dallas and the picture was taken in Killean Texas,, I havent been in Killean in several years LOL
The Incident was cleared or we hope it was but until they can get these things corrected and working properly they need to get them out!!!! I was also told in the Brownwood Tag office that there are several duplicate tags issued every year in Texas. I say get them outta here !!!!!!!
Paul in Brownwood

Austin home search said...

While getting revenue for the city is important, it is not so important as putting the lives of citizens in danger. Taking down these cameras will save money for the city as well as money for the tax payers who will now be able to avoid those rear-end collisions better.

dinoswim said...

No kidding they don't work right! I've been sitting at a particular intersection in Dallas (Inwood and Forest) and seen the camera takes pictures while the light was still green! NB traffic still had a green light and the flashes started. No other direction of traffic was moving so only one thing could have been happening....

Let's just say I changed my route to work after that. (No, I didn't get a ticket.)

George White said...

Extending the time on the yellow light is an excellent idea. A lot of people criticize Mexico, but they have had a system where the green light blinks a couple of times before turning yellow and then red. As a motorist it is so much better to have this advanced warning. There are some lights in our area that have yellow lights that last a split second, which is really just a waste, causing motorists to slam on their breaks in order to avoid running the light, which increases accidents, not to mention the wear and tear on your vehicle!

Deb said...

Wondered what Grits or others take is on City of Austin being ever-so-clever in writing their RLC contract with option for "extension" vs. "renewal" to get around this type of legislation should it come forth?

They're saying they get to keep theirs til the end of time b/c of that little goody.

Anonymous said...

I have a 19 year old who loves getting red light tickets because the car is in my name. I find out about the tickets when she dosn't manage to intercept the mail. I am a cop and I just found out I owe two $100 tickets because a car I was not driving ran red lights. this sucks....................

Anonymous said...

dont pay it since theyre coming down...