Another Effort is Being Made to Outlaw 'Red Light Cameras'

The Texas Legislature is making another attempt to ban the use of red light cameras, and other electronic devices to remotely enforce traffic laws, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.

State Sen. Bob Hall (R-Rockwall) is also introducing a measure to prevent county clerks from refusing to register vehicles due to an outstanding red light camera citation, which is the only true enforcement mechanism that cities have in collecting red light camera fines.

Hall says the cameras are unconstitutional.

"Once the camera indiscriminately clicks, the owner of the car is assumed to be the violator," Hall said.  "This owner, who may not even have been the person who was in the vehicle, is presumed to be the person who committed the violation."

Hall says the cameras then require the owner of the car to prove that he or she was not the violator, which amounts to a person being 'presumed guilty until the person proves innocence,' which is a clear constitutional violation.

In addition, Hall says the cameras do not reduce intersection accidents, as supporters claim.  In fact, the cameras actually cause more accidents, largely due to motorists being half way through an intersection and then noticing the red light camera and throwing on the brakes, prompting the driver behind to rear end them.

"There are numerous studies showing that these cameras actually cause a high risk to drivers by actually increasing crashes and injuries," Hall said.

The devices, which have been legal in Texas since 2007, photograph the license plate of a vehicle and photograph the red light at the same time.  Citations punishable by a fine are then mailed to the registered owner of the vehicle.

Under state law, the violation is not a criminal act, which means the municipalities which put up the red light cameras have no way to enforce the fine payment.  Unlike speeding tickets, they can't be included in 'warrant roundup,' and individuals are not subject to arrest or 'contempt of court' orders if they decline to pay.

In fact, the only way municipalities can enforce the fines is to withhold vehicle registratons, which Hall's bill would also prohibit.

Police officers, like David McDonald of the Austin PD, says the cameras are a way for overstretched urban police forces to enforce basic traffic laws, without requiring an officer to sit at a red light all day.

"Traffic safety cameras have served as a force multiplier, allowing law enforcement officials to deal with other public safety needs, without having to sacrifice enforcing our most basic traffic safety laws," he said.

Officials from Balcones Heights, which is the only community in the San Antonio area which operates red light cameras, told the Senate Committee the cameras have significantly reduced crashes along Fredericksburg Road, and have also increased respect for traffic laws in general.

Several police officers pointed out that traffic cameras are another technology in service of law enforcement, not unlike radar, police radios, and other non controversial technology.

But many speakers argued that red light cameras are simply a way for communities to pick the pockets of motorists, and pointed out most red light cameras are operated in conjunction with the camera company, which siphons off a percentage of the revenue.

Others said many communities have entered into long term contracts with those operators, and outlawing them now would leave them in default of their contract.

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