Tag Archives: red light cameras

Red-lights cameras can stay … at least for a while

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill into law that I wish he hadn’t signed. It was a bill that disallows cities from deploying red-light cameras to aid in enforcing traffic safety laws.

Ah, but here’s an interesting catch: An amendment to the bill approved by the Legislature allows cities to keep the cameras operating until their current vendor contracts expire. That means that while cities can terminate contracts for cause, they also can keep them operating for the length of the contract.

One city that has the cameras in place is Amarillo. I strongly supported Amarillo’s decision to use the devices to deter motorists from running red lights. I also strongly support the city’s apparent decision to stay the course until its contract with the vendor runs out.

Amarillo’s contract with American Traffic Solutions expires in September 2022. So, for more than three more years the city will be able to rely on the cameras to be on guard against lawbreakers when the police are looking the other way.

Unlike some cities knuckled under to some critics of the devices, Amarillo recently expanded the deployment locations, believing it had identified troublesome intersections; it did remove the cameras at some other intersections as well.

So, it’s a good-news, bad-news sort of thing. Some cities will get to keep the devices on duty for the length of their contracts; that’s the good news.

The bad news is that the contracts will expire eventually.

Then what? Will these Texas communities’ motorists and pedestrians be exposed to those who just don’t bother to follow the instructions to stop when the street signals turn red?

It’s now law: Cities cannot use technology to deter lawbreakers

Texas has taken a step back to where it was until the Legislature decided to allow cities to use technology to assist police in deterring those who break the law.

Count me as one Texan who’s disappointed in this decision.

Gov. Greg Abbott has signed legislation that now prohibits cities from deploying red-light cameras to catch those who disobey signals’ directions to stop. Abbott listened to the complainers who said the cameras are — and this just kills me — unconstitutional, that they disallow motorists busted by the devices to “confront their accuser.”

The owners of the vehicles that are busted can appeal the fines levied by municipal courts, which gives them the chance to confront the government.

Princeton, where I live, does not use the devices. Neither do neighboring cities Allen and McKinney. Denton, which is about 30 miles west on U.S. 380, uses the devices.

The Legislature did allow for cities to keep the cameras operating for the length of their existing contract with the vendors that supply them. After that, they come down!

Cities and towns long have been thought to be the best judge of their own needs. Many cities in Texas have deemed that they need help from these devices to help police in enforcing traffic laws. Why not let the cities make that call? Why not cede “local control” to the cities?

The Legislature doesn’t see it that way. Neither does Gov. Abbott.

I believe they have made a mistake.

It’s fine that minds change … but why not explain the shift?

I guess the Amarillo Globe-News has taken a 180-degree turn on the issue of red-light cameras.

The newspaper’s editorial page published an editorial today that all but sings the praises of efforts to unplug red-light cameras in cities all across Texas. The state House has approved a bill that takes away cities’ authority to deploy the devices.

The Globe-News used to favor the cameras. I know because I was editor of the opinion page at the time and we spoke quite fervently in support of the devices that Amarillo City Hall deployed to assist police officers in their efforts to deter motorists from disobeying traffic signals’ command to stop at red lights.

Well, the corporate ownership has changed. A new publisher runs the Globe-News. They have a new “director of commentary,” too. So today the paper has signaled the pending demise of red-light cameras.

The paper takes seriously the “Big Brother” concerns from opponents who contend that the cameras deny accused lawbreakers the chance to “face their accuser.” That, in my view, is pure baloney. Those caught running red lights can appeal the penalty; thus, they can “face their accuser.”

The paper doesn’t actually declare that it has changed its mind. It nearly does so, though.

Which I guess brings me to my point: If the newspaper is going to walk back its once-firm view on the use of certain mechanical devices to crack down on motorists who disobey traffic laws, doesn’t it owe its readers an explanation into why it has all but reversed course?

Check out the editorial here.

It saddens me.

Red light cameras’ life is flickering away

Note: I submitted this brief essay for publication on KETR-FM’s website. I also want to share it here with readers of this blog. Be sure to check out https://www.ketr.org/ for more news and other good stuff from the public radio station affiliated with Texas A&M-Commerce.

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The Texas Legislature is inching toward undoing what I consider to be one of the more worthwhile decisions it made in recent years.

The House Transportation Committee has cleared House Bill 1631, which would ban cities from deploying electronic devices to catch lawbreakers who ignore traffic signals and run through red lights.

This is a big mistake, man!

I have been a big supporter of these devices since the Legislature empowered cities to use them to assist police officers in enforcing traffic laws. Yes, they have endured some controversy. Some cities – such as Lubbock – took the devices down when their governing councils faced criticism from constituents.

I’ll be candid: I consider such cowering an act of cowardice. Other cities, such as Amarillo, not only have stayed the course, but have increased the number of devices they deploy around their communities.

The Legislature appears headed toward the former course. Legislators are hearing too many gripes about the devices. To which I say . . . fiddlesticks!

Police cannot be everywhere at once. Cities that use these devices seek to curb instances of red-light running, a potentially hazardous act by those who defy a signal’s instruction to stop when the light turns red. Many of these lawbreakers too often just decide to peel out from a dead stop when the light is still red.

I was living in Amarillo when that city deployed the first set of red-light cameras. The traffic department identified about a half-dozen dangerous intersections. The result was that incidents of motorist misbehavior declined at those locations.

An earlier Legislature placed strict rules on how cities could spend the revenue they collect from violators. They had to use the money strictly for traffic improvements. Cities all across Texas have used those funds to upgrade signalization and shoring up lighting along dangerous streets and roads.

The gripes are worn out, tired and hackneyed. Motorists contend that the cameras deny them the right to “face their accuser.” Wrong! Cities allow motorists the opportunity to protest the fines levied when they break the law; if motorists can make the case that they were ticketed in error, the municipal judge can rescind the fine. What’s wrong with that process?

My all-time favorite complaint is that the devices are an “invasion of privacy.” Yes, some folks believe the cameras invade the “privacy” of individuals driving on public streets and putting others in potential danger when they ignore traffic signals’ order to stop – and to stay stopped until the lights turn green!

State Rep. Jonathan Strickland, a Bedford Republican, authored HB 1631, believing I guess that cities don’t deserve the right to take these specific measures designed to protect their residents. Of course, he would deny such a thing. That’s fine. It’s just that the Legislature is controlled by a Republican Party that used to believe in “local control” over issues affecting individual communities. I am left to wonder: What in the world happened to that worthwhile philosophy?

I wish there was a way to stop this effort. It appears lost to those of us who support this technology. Gov. Greg Abbott already is on board with HB 1631.

That is a damn shame . . . if you were to ask me.

‘Right of privacy’ argument doesn’t work

I have made this point before, but it’s worth making again. A fellow who comments occasionally on this blog took note of how those who gripe about red-light cameras cite a phony infringement on their “right of privacy.”

He notes correctly that when motorists travel on public streets and are required to follow the law they surrender their “right of privacy.”

At issue is the future of red light cameras in cities across Texas. The Legislature is considering whether to pull back its authorization for cities to deploy the cameras to help deter motorists from running through red lights.

There is no such thing as a “right of privacy” when motorists put other motorists and pedestrians in peril when they break the law.

The cameras do have their critics. They say the timing of the light sequence from yellow to red can be unfair to motorists trying to sneak through under yellow.

Right of privacy, though, doesn’t cut it. I am reminded of the time then-Texas Gov. Rick Perry vetoed a bill that banned cell phone use while driving. He cited the legislation as an invasion of motorists’ right of privacy.

Gov. Perry’s thinking at the time was idiotic. The gripes now about red light cameras and the privacy issue are equally idiotic.

Red-light cameras about to go dark?

If the Texas Legislature forces cities to take down their red-light cameras — devices that aid local police departments in enforcing traffic laws — I fear we’re going to see an uptick in wrecks caused by reckless driving.

Sad times might lie ahead.

The Legislature is pondering whether to rescind the authority it granted cities a few years ago to deploy these devices at dangerous intersections. Local law enforcement and traffic officials were able to determine the most dangerous intersections in their cities; they deployed the cameras to take pictures of license plates on motor vehicles that ran through red lights. Cities then send citations to the registered owners of the vehicles, who then are told to pay fines.

I believe the cameras have deterred over time the rash of red-light violations in cities throughout the state.

Some folks keep bitching about them, though. I guess they’ve caught the attention of legislators and the governor, Greg Abbott, who’s now on board with the movement to take down the cameras.

That would be a shame.

Amarillo was one of the Texas cities to make use of the technology. Yes, it brought out the gripers. They complained to the city that they didn’t like being “busted” by machines; they considered the cameras to be unfair.

I laughed when I heard such nonsense. I also like harkening back to a retort offered a few years ago by a member of the City Council.

Then-Amarillo City Councilwoman Ellen Green said it succinctly and cogently. “If you don’t want to pay the fine,” she said during a council meeting, “then don’t run the red lights.”

Cities always can use the technological help the cameras provide. I hope the Legislature rethinks its move toward taking them down.

My hope doesn’t quite match my fear of what the Legislature is going to do.

Reps. Price, Smithee turn their backs on ‘local control’

I know these two men well and have developed a lot of professional respect for them, but Texas state Reps. Four Price and John Smithee of Amarillo have disappointed me.

The two Republican lawmakers have put their names on a bill that would allow the Legislature to disallow the deployment of red-light cameras. Cities that deem there is a need to use the equipment to stop motorists from breaking the law no longer would be allowed to use the cameras.

Amarillo — which Price and Smithee represent — is one of those Texas cities that has used the cameras to assist in the enforcement of traffic laws.

Gov. Greg Abbott has gone on record saying he wants the cameras pulled down. His statement suggests he will sign legislation that forbids cities from using the cameras.

Why does this bother me? Well, I support the city’s effort to crack down on red-light violations at signaled intersections. I say that as someone who has been caught running through an intersection, seeking to sneak through when the light had turned yellow; I wasn’t quick enough to avoid getting caught.

Moreover, Republicans have traditionally been the political party that espouses local control. They have been champions of cities operating under their charter, rather than allowing “big brother” state government to impose policies that determine issues that are best left to the cities’ discretion.

I guess that’s no longer the case.

Indeed, the Legislature’s decision just a few years ago to allow cities to use the cameras came after extensive discussion and debate. I believe the cameras have helped deter motorists from acting in a manner that endangers other motorists and pedestrians.

I wish Reps. Price and Smithee had held true to their view that local control is the preferred method of delivering good government.

Time of My Life, Part 19: Not totally right, or wrong

I learned a great deal during more than 37 years working in print journalism. I learned that criticism of my work usually kept me humble and that no one is totally right or totally wrong.

My interaction with readers was mostly invigorating and always instructive at some level. Readers would challenge our newspapers’ editorial policy or would take me personally to task for opinions I would express in my signed columns. Indeed, I get a good bit of that even now writing this blog and sharing my views with a worldwide audience.

A few callers stand out.

Once, at the Beaumont Enterprise, I wrote a column endorsing the idea of mandatory helmet laws for Texas motorcycle riders. A reader from Orange County called to challenge me on my view. He thought it was an invasion of his personal liberty. The state didn’t have the right, he said, to order him to wear a helmet if he didn’t want to do it.

I asked him what does the helmet deprive him. He answered with what I presume was a straight face: He didn’t want to be deprived of the wind blowing through his hair.

Suffice to say we didn’t change each other’s mind.

At the Amarillo Globe-News, the newspaper endorsed the notion of installing red-light cameras to catch those who ran through red lights. They are breaking the law. Police can’t be everywhere at once, so the city deployed the cameras to catch the offenders.

One fellow, a prominent lawyer in Amarillo, argued with me that the cameras deprived him of the right to “face my accuser.” We did argue over that idea. I reminded him that offenders have the right to appeal. They could argue their case in front of the municipal judge. If they’re effective defenders of themselves, the judge could overrule the citation that was issued. What’s wrong with that process? I asked him.

Again, we agreed to disagree on that one.

One of my all-time favorite calls came from a reader in Amarillo. She had submitted a letter to the editor. She wanted us to publish it. One of my jobs as editorial page editor was to screen letters; not all of them saw print, although most of them did.

This particular letter contained a false assertion. I decided the letter wouldn’t see print. The writer called to inquire about the letter. I informed her I wouldn’t publish it. She became indignant. She asked, “Why not?” I told her it contained a falsehood and that the newspaper would not foment misinformation.

“I know it’s all true,” she said. I asked her how she knew it. “Because I read it on the Internet.”

I laughed out loud.

My give-and-take with readers gave me a wonderful insight into our constituencies. I always tend to look for the good in people and I found that most of those who took the time to write to us and to discuss their submissions had noble intentions.

They also taught me about the world, and about the communities where we all lived and worked. It gave me great pleasure to interact with them.

Amarillo boosting its red-light camera deployment

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is on record saying he believes the state ought to yank cities’ authority to deploy red-light cameras at dangerous intersections.

Amarillo has responded to that declaration by increasing the number of cameras it has posted around the city from nine to 12.

Take that, Gov. Abbott!

I remain a supporter of the technology that the city uses to assist in catching red-light runners in the act of breaking the law.

The city is going to add seven cameras at intersections, while removing four cameras from other intersections. Thus, the city is continuing to use the technology to assist the police department. Moreover, the city is upgrading red-light camera assemblies at five intersections.

So, what does that mean for the future of the technology? I suppose you can say it lies in the hands of the Texas Legislature. Amarillo has two House members representing the city: Republicans John Smithee and Four Price; it also has a state senator, Republican Kel Seliger, who managed to make some news in recent days because of his dispute with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

What do these three men believe about the red-light cameras? I haven’t asked them directly. Maybe I will, even though I no longer live in Amarillo.

I don’t see any such cameras on the job in Collin County, where my wife and I now live. I don’t see them in Fairview, or Allen, or McKinney or in Princeton — where we’ll be moving into our new home quite soon. I would not object to any city in Collin County deploying these devices. The way I figure it, if it deters red-light runners then they are doing their job.

As for Amarillo’s red-light cameras, consider this little tidbit: Texas Department of Transportation officials say that the three intersections where the cameras are being removed recorded just four collisions from July 2016 to the end of June 2017. They are heavily traveled thoroughfares, so I am going to presume that the cameras did their job.

Cities should be allowed to determine for themselves whether or where to deploy these devices. They don’t need Bigger Brother looking over them.

Gov. Abbott, have you lost your mind?

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has given me a reason to vote against his re-election. I mean, doggone it, anyhow!

Abbott wants to unplug the red-light cameras that have been deployed in cities throughout Texas. The cameras are meant to deter motorists from breaking the law when they run through stop lights and, thus, endanger other motorists and pedestrians.

This is a deal-breaker, Gov. Abbott. Have you gone around the bend?

Cities charge violators $75 when they run through intersections. The Legislature established strict rules on how cities should spend the revenue they collect: They pay the vendors who operate the equipment and then dedicate the revenue specifically to improve traffic enforcement and other matters related to that critical issue.

But then the governor says the cameras aren’t working as they should. He wants the state to pre-empt local communities’ desire to use technology to help police officers enforce traffic laws. Some cities have taken the cameras down. Others, such as Amarillo, where I used to live and work, have stayed the course. Good for Amarillo!

“Red light cameras have been like the white whale for many conservatives who have tried to ban them in Texas by arguing they harm individual liberty or are unconstitutional,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston. “Eliminating red light cameras is a low cost way to appeal to conservative legislators whom the governor will need to pass his agenda.”

Harm individual liberty? We don’t allow motorists to drink and drive. We require drivers and passengers to wear seat restraints. Do those rules “harm individual liberty”? I wish the professor was kidding. I also wish Gov. Abbott is kidding when he says the state needs to unplug the cameras.

Sadly, they aren’t.