The days of red light cameras in Texas may be numbered.
Organizers of a petition drive to have the cameras shut off in Fort Worth say their effort to gain enough signatures to put the issue on a ballot "fizzled," but they hope the Texas Legislature will take up the issue next year.
They want state lawmakers once and for all to ban these cameras, which generate millions of dollars each year for Texas and its cities.
"If we can't kill this at the ballot box, we can kill this at the pocketbook," said Kelly Canon of Arlington, who led a successful effort to have red light cameras shut off in Arlington three years ago. "We are looking at the Legislature to get rid of all the red light cameras, not just those in Fort Worth."
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Many believe the cameras violate the U.S. Constitution and lead to more rear-end accidents at intersections with cameras. Others say they make streets safer and generate needed revenue for cities across the state.
Fort Worth City Manager David Cooke said the cameras aren't geared to be a money maker for the city.
"I understand the arguments against red light cameras," he said. "But we think red light cameras serve a purpose in making intersections safer."
Cameras are set so vehicles entering intersections after the light has turned red — and those that don’t stop long enough before making a right turn on a red light — are photographed. Vehicles entering the intersection on yellow that are still in the intersection when the light turns red are not photographed, according to the Texas Department of Transportation.
After each offense, a $75 ticket is automatically sent to the car’s owner.
Fed up with the cameras, Canon spearheaded the effort to gather more than 20,000 signatures on petitions to ask Fort Worth City Council members to put the issue on the ballot in November. The goal was to let voters decide whether the cameras that have been up since 2008 should stay.
"It is dead because of the lack of volunteers and a lack of motivation," Canon said. "Fort Worth should be disappointed in Fort Worth."
Fort Worth City Councilman Cary Moon said he "was kind of rooting for them to get the signatures to get a vote on the issue," even though he said he sees arguments on both sides of the issue.
"I like the petition option," he said. "There's a reason it requires the amount of work it does. I'm glad they gave it a good shot."
Not everyone pays the red light camera tickets they receive. And critics stress that no one should.
Red light camera tickets are civil violations, unlike speeding, which is criminal.
That means they don’t show up on driving records or impact insurance rates. And these unpaid tickets can’t be reported to a credit bureau, so credit ratings aren't impacted.
Some Texas counties, such as Dallas, flag motorists with unpaid red-light tickets and block their vehicle registrations until the tickets are paid.
Tarrant County does not block vehicle registration for unpaid light camera fines.
But any tickets left unpaid will trigger reminder notices and repeat notices that a $25 late fee will be added to the bill. And accounts with unpaid tickets may be flagged, which likely will block online registrations.
Tarrant County Tax Assessor-Collector Ron Wright said anyone who has an account that is flagged may go to any of the eight local tax assessor collector offices. There, they will be allowed to renew their registration no matter how many unpaid red light tickets they have.
Nearly two dozen states in the U.S. allow these cameras, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.
Gov. Greg Abbott has said he supports letting cities decide whether they should have red light cameras.
Efforts to get rid of the law allowing red light cameras have died during past legislative sessions, but many hope a similar push will find success next year.
Lawmakers head back to work Jan. 8, 2019, and state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, is expected to lead the charge to do away with red light cameras in Texas, as he has in the past.
“There are privacy concerns with the cameras," he has told the Star-Telegram. "The Constitution tells us we have the right to face our accuser in court. How can you face your accuser if it's a machine?"
State Rep. Tony Tinderholt, R-Arlington, is ready to help with the effort as well.
He said he has spoken to thousands of people as he walked neighborhoods through the years trying to gain voter support, and he's heard a lot about red light cameras.
"Most people don't want them," Tinderholt said. "This is not a divisive topic. There are some serious considerations when it comes to people's rights regarding these cameras."
He and others say there will be new House leadership next year, since Speaker Joe Straus didn't seek re-election. And that could mean this bill has an easier time passing.
"Regardless of who the new speaker is, there will be a higher propensity for this bill to be heard and likely pass next session," Tinderholt said. "I think the past leadership was against it. I hope the new leadership will adhere to the will of the body."