Unplug red light cameras

It's time for Fort Worth to unplug its red light cameras.

While the city recently prevailed in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of red light cameras, this nagging question still remains: If more than half of those getting the citations successfully dodge paying them, is it fair to continue sending bills to motorists willing to ante up?

We'll concede that the cameras' presence may prevent drivers from sneaking through intersections when the lights are bright yellow and they probably should stop. But there is something just not right about the government taking advantage of citizens who go ahead and pay the fines because they have a guilty conscience. It's a little like taxes: Some people pay their fair share while others work every loophole, no matter how tenuous.

As we've said previously, if Fort Worth is not going to make everyone pay, it shouldn't make anyone pay.

The city may think it can continue to operate this way because of a recent courtroom victory.

James Watson of Shreveport filed a lawsuit three years ago challenging these electronic traffic cops. A vehicle registered to Watson was photographed running a red light in Southlake. Watson later received a $75 citation in the mail and was told if he didn't pay it, the bill would be turned over to a collection agency and he could be prohibited from registering his car.

But wait. Red light violations are civil, not criminal, penalties so law enforcement can't haul anyone into court. And in Tarrant County the tax-assessor's office refuses to block vehicle registration because of outstanding red light tickets. So, there's no forced compliance and no consequences.

When faced with the ticket, Watson initially paid. Then, he thought twice about it and sued. At first, he just wanted his $75 back. Then, he decided to challenge red light cameras not only in Southlake, but across Texas. Eventually, the lawsuit included more than 50 communities with red light cameras, along with the state of Texas.

Earlier this month, state District Judge Susan McCoy essentially tossed out the lawsuit without dealing with the constitutional substance of the legal arguments against red light cameras. Watson was blocked from suing Southlake because he didn't follow protocol in fighting the ticket. The other cities and Texas were released because Watson didn't have a direct claim against them.

Watson said he will appeal McCoy's ruling and attorneys on both sides of the case say it could end up before the Texas Supreme Court.

But this recent decision shouldn't be seen as a free pass for Fort Worth to continue what it's doing.

It's still the case that in the 2017 fiscal year 125,000 violations — more than half of the citations issued — went unpaid.

Unhappiness with Fort Worth's red light cameras already has kicked off a petition drive to discontinue red light cameras. A similar effort led to the removal of the devices in Arlington in 2015. If the issue ends up on the November ballot, voters may well take care of the unfairness elected officials have done nothing to correct.

Save us all the time and expense of an election. It's time to turn off the red light cameras in Fort Worth, and in every other city where the fines aren't enforced equitably.