Don’t like red light cameras? These Texas lawmakers don’t either — and want to ban them

Some lawmakers say it’s time to turn off red light cameras in Texas.

And so far, a handful of proposals have been filed to do just that.

“The people of Texas have ... had enough,” said state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, who filed one of the bills. “It’s time that we protect the rights of Texans and finally ban red light cameras.”

Critics have long said the cameras violate the U.S. Constitution and lead to rear-end accidents. Supporters say they make streets safer and generate needed money for cities.

The difference this time is that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has weighed in on the issue.

“Red light cameras ... are expensive, studies indicate that they may increase accidents where deployed, and they pose constitutional issues,” he wrote in his Safeguarding, Security, Serving report released last year. “Texas should ban the use of these devices by preempting local authority to utilize them.”

The cameras are set so vehicles entering intersections after the light has turned red are photographed. After an offense, a $75 ticket is sent to the car’s owner.

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.

Some of these cameras have been up and running across Texas for more than a decade.

And drivers in some areas of Texas, including Arlington in 2015, have already voted to take them out of their communities. An effort to do that last year in Fort Worth failed when organizers couldn’t get enough signatures on petitions asking city leaders to put the issue on the ballot.

Red light proposals

Stickland has filed House Bill 1631 to ban red light cameras.

Similar proposals have been filed through the years, including one by him in 2015, but none have made it through both the House and the Senate.

“I think the red light cameras violate the constitutional rights of Texans,” Stickland said.

He believes 2019 could be the year the proposal to turn off red light cameras actually becomes law.

“The Legislature is a slow moving giant and we are finally here,” he said.

State Sen. Bob Hall, R-Edgewood, filed a companion measure, Senate Bill 653.

“The law would stop new cameras,” Hall said, noting that “the only reason those cameras are there is to collect money as a revenue source.”

And state Rep. Jim Murphy, R-Houston, has filed HB 537 to require any city that operates red light cameras to conduct a study every five years to determine traffic volume, the number of violations at each intersection, safety concerns and more.

This bill, he said, “will ensure that potential camera sites are professionally and properly evaluated and that cities place these devices only where they are the best option for public safety.”

Texas lawmakers have until the end of their legislative session, May 27, to pass any new bills.

Civil violation

Critics have long argued that anyone who receives red light camera tickets shouldn’t pay them because they are civil violations.

That means they don’t show up on driving records or affect 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 Wendy Burgess 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 — in person — to renew their registration no matter how many unpaid red light tickets they have.

State Sen. Pat Fallon, R-Prosper, has filed SB 459 to prevent county assessor collectors and the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles from refusing to register motor vehicles, or transfer the title of a vehicle, because of unpaid red light camera tickets. Hall filed a similar proposal, SB 413.

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Anna M. Tinsley grew up in a journalism family and has been a reporter for the Star-Telegram since 2001. She has covered the Texas Legislature and politics for more than two decades and has won multiple awards for political reporting, most recently a third place from APME for deadline writing. She is a Baylor University graduate.