Editorials

Texas Legislature, ban red light cameras as unfair, unconstitutional, unsafe

2016’s worst red light runners

American Traffic Solutions (ATS), the leading road safety camera provider in North America, wants drivers to see this year’s compilation of the worst red-light running crash videos and realize they are too dangerous to ignore.
Up Next
American Traffic Solutions (ATS), the leading road safety camera provider in North America, wants drivers to see this year’s compilation of the worst red-light running crash videos and realize they are too dangerous to ignore.

There are powerful financial incentives for cities such as Fort Worth to continue ticketing motorists through red light cameras.

For one thing, the program — which takes a snapshot of tags on cars allegedly entering some intersections on red and then mails a $75 citation to the owner — has funneled millions to cities doing it, as well as the state, which gets half the take after costs.

Texas lawmakers are no doubt under great pressure from those cities, and possibly the camera companies, to keep the cash cow fed, especially in the face of separate House and Senate bills that would end the practice.

All the more reason for those of us who fervently want the cameras removed — including Gov. Greg Abbott, growing numbers of lawmakers, citizen activists and others — to make our wishes known.

That’s because of the overwhelming legal, practical and even moral reasons to oppose the cameras.

The tickets are civil matters, not criminal. But that legal technicality can’t be allowed to throw out the window all notions of due process, which is a bedrock American principle. If an officer tickets you on the spot and you disagree, you can appeal to the courts with details of the incident burned into memory. But when you unexpectedly receive a ticket in the mail weeks after an alleged infraction, how are you to adequately defend yourself?

A pro-camera witness at a Senate Transportation Committee hearing Wednesday admitted the onus is on car owners to prove their innocence.

Then there’s the little matter of the disparity in enforcement: Since there is no mechanism to force compliance, half or more of the tickets from red light cameras go unpaid. Equitable justice is another of our foundational American values.

Moreover, are short yellow lights contributing to the storm of citations? Kelly Canon, who led a petition drive that removed red light cameras in Arlington, thinks so anyway.

As for the only legitimate argument in favor of the cameras — safety — a 12-year study released in 2018 by Case Western Reserve University in Ohio concludes there is “no evidence of a reduction in total accidents or injuries” attributable to red light cameras in Texas. In fact, the study says, by training motorists to “stop even when it would be safer to continue through the intersection,” red light cameras have actually increased rear-end collisions at such intersections: up 28 percent combined in Dallas and Houston.

“Intersections with cameras are likely to be among the most dangerous intersections,” the study says.

The Senate bill removing red light cameras had a grandfather clause inserted into it before Wednesday’s hearing that would leave some existing cameras in place even if the bill is passed. With any luck, that can be stripped out later. It’s said most cities’ contracts with camera suppliers, including Fort Worth’s, call for their elimination with any relevant change in state law. But let’s not take that chance: no grandfathering these things in.

Bill author Sen. Bob Hall, R-Edgewood, says there’s also a Senate bill that would strip cities’ ability to assess fines with cameras.

There’s also the companion House Bill 1631, filed by Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, which thankfully has no grandfather clause but does have over 100 co-authors — two thirds of the House.

One way or another, let’s end this failed experiment, which is unfair, unconstitutional and arguably unsafe.

  Comments