Tag Archives: red-light cameras

Why write about red-light cameras? Here’s why

A social media acquaintance of mine — and I do not know this fellow personally — posed a question about why High Plains Blogger keeps writing about red-light cameras.

He implies that I am fixated on the issue, suggesting I reckon that I am devoting too much attention to it.

Hmm. Here’s my answer to my acquaintance — who’s a frequent critic of this blog.

I write frequently about the issue because I consider it a public safety matter. I also believe that cities that deploy these devices are correct to rely on a technological advance that assists police departments in their enforcement of traffic-safety laws and municipal ordinances.

It’s merely a matter of opinion and I am aware that others do not share it. I believe in the technology. I believe the Texas law that allows cities to use it is not being abused by local authorities.

The Texas Legislature stipulated some strict provisions on the law. It requires cities to use revenue generated by fines paid by motorists who run the red lights strictly for traffic improvements. I urged the Legislature to act while I was working for the Amarillo Globe-News; I wrote personal columns and editorials on behalf of the editorial board imploring the Legislature to act. I have continued beating that drum in my retirement years. I also have applauded Amarillo’s resistance to taking down the cameras despite the overheated protests from a vocal minority of residents.

The cameras take a picture of offending motor vehicles; cities then mail the citation to the registered owner of the vehicle, who then is required to pay the fine. He or she can appeal the fine to the municipal judge.

I answered the social media acquaintance with a semi-snarky response, telling him that I intend to keep writing about it. I’ll reiterate my answer here.

Public safety is important enough for this blog to keep raising the issue.

Gov. Greg Abbott vows to urge the next Legislature to rescind the enabling law, provided he’s re-elected on Nov. 6. If he does and the Legislature follows his lead, you can bet I’ll have a whole lot more to say on this issue.

That, dear reader, is my story and I’m sticking to it.

Once more about red-light cameras

I want to add this brief note to my previous blog post about red-light cameras.

They are not, as critics of the cameras contend, revenue raisers for cities looking to set up speed traps to catch unsuspecting motorists.

I want to cite an example of what I mean.

My wife and have been driving between Amarillo and the Dallas/Fort Worth region for more than two decades. Of all the communities through which we pass, I can think of precisely one — Denton — that uses the red-light cameras. The rest of them — Claude, Clarendon, Hedley, Memphis, Estelline, Childress, Quanah, Chillicothe, Vernon, Electra, Iowa Park, Wichita Falls, Bowie, Jolly … you name ’em — don’t use these devices.

Or if they do, say, in Vernon, Bowie, Jolly and Wichita Falls, U.S. Highway 287 does not have stop lights, meaning that motorists can breeze through these towns without having to stop.

Have some of these towns become “speed traps”? Yeah. Estelline comes immediately to mind. They do so without aid of these devices designed to deter motorists from breaking the law by running through stop lights.

There. That’s it. I’m out on this issue.

Until the next time.

Is this a one-issue race for governor?

Honest to goodness, I usually don’t vote for public office based on a single issue. I regret, though, that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott might have tossed at my feet the one issue that might make me vote against him.

Gov. Abbott said not long ago that the Texas Legislature needs to rescind its earlier approval for cities in the state to deploy red-light cameras at dangerous intersections to help deter motorists from running through stop lights.

If he’s re-elected, Abbot said he would ask the 2019 Legislature to pull the plug on the cameras that have been deployed in cities across the state.

To be fair, I have been looking for a reason to support Democratic challenger Lupe Valdez. The campaign for governor has been so devoid of compelling issues, I cannot commit fully to supporting the former Dallas County sheriff.

Back to Abbott … I wish he wouldn’t have ignited the red-light camera discussion. I continue to support cities’ attempts to deploy this technological ally in their effort to curb dangerous motorists’ behavior. Amarillo, where my wife and I lived until this past spring, is one of those cities.

A former city commissioner, Ellen Robertson Green, once declared that the best way for motorists to avoid getting slapped with the $75 fine is for them to “stop running red lights.” Duh!

Abbott says the cameras haven’t improved traffic safety sufficiently. He said something, too, about an increase in rear-end wrecks at intersections as motorists try to avoid running through yellow lights that turn red.

What about city officials’ concerns about the hazards created by those who continue to run through these street lights? And don’t Texas Republicans traditionally cede these decisions to local authorities, preferring to keep the state out of matters that can be decided locally?

I’m still grappling with how I’m going to go on this race for governor. I hate the idea of leaving that ballot spot vacant when it comes time to vote.

I also hate deciding an important election campaign on the basis of a single issue. However, if I must …

Keep the cameras on duty

My request of the Amarillo City Council is simple and straightforward.

It should agree to expand the deployment of red-light cameras to other troublesome intersections in Amarillo.

Council members are reportedly ready to make a decision. They have targeted a half-dozen intersections where motorists are prone to running red lights. The city already has cameras keeping an eagle eye on lawbreakers; the camera snaps pictures of those who run through the lights and the city sends fine notices to the registered owners of the motor vehicle that has been used in the traffic infraction.

The cameras have worked so well at one intersection — Coulter and Elmhurst — that the city is considering disconnecting the cameras at that location.

The council has received some disturbing news at one level. A lot of the fines the city has assessed have gone unpaid. The count is more than 11,000 of them issued in 2017. Of course, the city cannot let those unpaid citations go unaccounted for.

Council members have learned that the Traffic Department has improved signalization at several intersections with the money collected from the red-light cameras. That, I should add, is how the Legislature stipulated the money must be spent in cities that deploy the cameras.

While some cities have cratered under criticism of this technology, I am delighted to see that Amarillo is staying the course … at least for now. My hope is that it stays the course for the long haul.

Motorists need to be aware that intersections are being equipped with this technology. The more the merrier. The cops cannot be everywhere all at once. The city has taken a proactive approach to dealing with a problem that has caused considerable misery, damage and grief because motorists choose to disobey the law.

My hope is that the City Council proceeds with an expansion of red-light camera traffic enforcement.

***

Stand your ground, commissioners

Unconstitutional? Umm. Nope!

An Amarillo resident has joined an amen chorus being sung by those who suggest that red-light cameras, which the city has deployed to deter those who run through stop lights, is “unconstitutional.”

Why is that? Because it violates the Sixth Amendment that guarantees that those who are accused of wrongdoing have the right to confront their accuser.

John Faulkner wrote this, in part, to the Amarillo Globe-News in a letter to the editor: A red-light camera photograph is hearsay, and is therefore inadmissible under the Sixth Amendment. It is hearsay because you cannot cross examine the photograph or the camera. The Sixth Amendment gives defendants the right to confront their accuser. 

Sigh. Actually, it is not “hearsay.” This equipment provides physical evidence that someone has run through a red light when he or she is supposed to obey its “instruction” to stop and not proceed until the light turns green.

Furthermore, the city grants accused red-light runners the opportunity to appeal the fine levied against the alleged lawbreaker. Thus, a defendant is granted the right to face his or her accuser.

The constitutionality argument is funny, except that I ain’t laughing.

The Texas Legislature granted cities the authority to install these cameras. It attached some provisions on it, such as requiring cities to devote revenue collected strictly to traffic improvements. The attorney general’s office is full of bright legal minds who can determine the constitutionality of laws the Legislature enacts. City Hall also employs a legal team that ensures its ordinances pass constitutional muster.

So, let’s toss aside this silly argument.

The red-light cameras are doing what they are intended to do. They are deterring some motorists from misbehaving while they travel along our busy streets. Not all of them, for sure.

I remain a strong supporter of this technology. It works.

Red-light camera ban set for more debate

redlightcamera

Here we go … again!

The Texas Legislature is going to consider a bill — maybe more than one of them — to ban cities from deploying red-light cameras at dangerous intersections.

Stop me before my head explodes!

Amarillo is one of those cities that has put the cameras to good use at various intersections. City traffic and police officials reported recently that the cameras are doing their job. They are preventing motorists from running through red lights and putting other motorists in jeopardy.

But that ain’t stopping lawmakers from seeking to ban the cameras. The irony of this effort in this legislative body is too rich to ignore.

I’ll start with this fact: Republicans dominate both legislative chambers. The Republican Party traditionally has been the party that seeks to invest more control of government affairs to local authorities. Not so as it regards the cameras. In this instance, the paternalistic state is better equipped than the locals to determine whether there is a need for police to have some electronic help in preventing motorists from ignoring red lights.

http://www.dallasnews.com/news/politics/2016/11/25/lawmakers-will-try-ban-red-light-traffic-cameras

Yes, some cities have taken the cameras down after using them for a time. Residents don’t like them? Fine, cities react to their constituents’ concerns.

Lubbock had them. Then they took ’em down.

Amarillo has deployed the cameras since 2008. Sure, there’s been some griping. Has any group put together a petition drive to get them taken down? No. The City Council remains firm in its commitment to using the cameras. I applaud the council for its persistence.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve been caught once running a red light. I didn’t do it on purpose. I just forgot about the camera posted at 10th and South Taylor in downtown Amarillo; I drove through the intersection and got caught. The camera took a picture of my car’s license plate and I got a ticket in the mail; I paid the ticket.

So, why does the Legislature want to meddle in cities’ decisions? According to the Dallas Morning News: “Whenever these cameras are put on the ballot box [in cities] … the cameras never win,” said Dallas Republican Sen. Don Huffines, who recently wrote a bill to get rid of the cameras. “They’re not popular, and people are tired of being found guilty by a camera.”

So what if a camera does what a traffic cop can’t do at that moment? I keep thinking back to something that former Amarillo Councilwoman Ellen Green once said in defense of the cameras. She said, essentially, that if you don’t want to pay the fine “don’t run the red lights.”

I have no clue whether the Legislature will make good on its effort to interfere with local prerogative. I do hope, though, that it backs off yet again. Let local traffic and law enforcement authorities determine the best way to keep lawbreaking motorists in line.

Bully for red-light cameras!

shutterstock_red_light-camera

I am so busted!

I got home from work this evening and found something on the dining room table I did not expect.

It was a report of traffic violation that I committed near downtown Amarillo.

I drove through an intersection where the city had deployed a red-light camera.

Snap! I was caught.

Hmmm.

But here’s the thing. As of today, I have no memory of getting caught. I didn’t blaze through the intersection and see a flash go off behind me as I scooted on down the street.

For that matter, I didn’t even see the “Photo Enforced” sign the city posts 300 feet before every intersection where the lights are set up.

I won’t make an excuse. I have none. I got caught. I’ve written the check and I’ll pay the fine. I won’t contest it.

What’s more, I continue to be a big supporter of the devices. They serve to deter motorists who commit deliberate acts of red-light-running. I will continue to applaud the city — under the leadership of then-Mayor Debra McCartt — for enacting the ordinance that established the enforcement system and for resisting efforts to persuade City Hall to take the cameras down.

The closest thing I can find for an excuse, though, might be that the sign posted prior to the intersection wasn’t visible enough for me. Then again, in all likelihood it is my own damn fault for not being alert enough to notice it.

I’ll take full responsibility.

Moreover, I know this as well. Now that I am fully aware of that particular camera has been set up, I’ll be extra careful when I travel through that intersection in the future.

While I’m at it, I probably ought to acquaint myself with all the red-light-camera locations around the city.

I also will be more alert and work harder to avoid running red lights.

Red-light cameras don’t blink

red light cams

A legal challenge to Texas cities’ deployment of cameras to stop red-light runners has come to an end.

It was tossed out. The case had been filed out of Fort Worth, but it affected all the cities that are using the cameras.

That includes Amarillo.

Now, can we just stop yapping and yammering about these devices?

I continue to support the use of the cameras. It’s not that I cherish the thought of people getting pinched. It’s that I hope knowledge of the cameras at specific intersections eventually will deter motorists from running through the red lights and putting other motorists and pedestrians at risk of getting injured … or killed!

I keep falling back on the comments delivered by my one-time favorite Amarillo City Council member, Ellen Robertson Green. She scolded protesters who were griping about the red-light cameras, telling them flat out that all they to do to avoid getting caught was not obey the law and not run the red lights.

State law is clear: Money raised by the devices must be dedicated to improving traffic in the city. The Legislature tinkered and toyed with the idea of revoking cities’ ability to deploy the cameras. Then it backed off for lack of support. That was a good deal.

Cities should be allowed to determine whether to use the cameras if they perceive a red-light running problem. Amarillo identified such a problem and took steps to deter it.

Let’s allow the system to keep working.

Red-light cameras to stay in operation

Let’s put the effort to ban cities from deploying red-light cameras on ice for another two years.

And then let us hope the Texas Legislature fails again to impose its will on cities who are seeking ways to prevent motorists from running through stop lights and endangering other motorists and pedestrians.

http://www.texastribune.org/2015/05/01/amid-investigation-activists-critical-red-light-ca/

The 2015 Legislature won’t enact a statewide ban on the cameras. It fell short of efforts to take that authority away from cities, where officials — including in Amarillo — have deployed the cameras.

I happen to be glad that Amarillo will be able to maintain the cameras.

What’s more, I am hopeful the next Legislature will decide in the state’s best interest to let cities control their own traffic destiny.

Of all the arguments I keep hearing in opposition to the cameras, the one that angers and amuses me the most is that the cameras “violate the rights” of motorists. What rights? Privacy? The right to “face an accuser”? The right of “due process”?

If we’re going to accept the rights violation argument, then let’s just tell cities to disband their police departments. Let’s take down speed limit signs. While we’re at it, let’s take security cameras out of stores that protect businesses against theft; those cameras, after all, violate our “rights,” too, by watching our every move while we’re shopping.

Amarillo should be hailed for its insistence that the red-light cameras are helping deter motorists from endangering others, not to mention themselves, when they run through stoplights. Other cities haven’t demonstrated that kind of backbone.

So, for now, thanks also belong to the Texas Legislature for leaving cities alone and letting them determine what’s best for the motor vehicle-driving public.

Red-light cameras 'unconstitutional'? Guess again

James Watson has filed a lawsuit against cities in Texas that deploy red-light cameras to catch those who run through intersections against signals that tell them they should stop.

Amarillo is one of them.

He got popped by a red-light camera in Southlake. So, to make his point, he’s going after other cities that use the devices as well.

This lawsuit needs to be thrown out on the plaintiff’s ear.

Watson contends that the cities’ ordinance violates the Texas Constitution and state law by depriving motorists of the “presumption of innocence, the right to trial by an impartial jury, the right to cross-examine witnesses and the right against self-incrimination.”

Oh, my.

What, then, do we do about police officers who catch motorists running through red lights? Do the cops who write the tickets also deny motorists the presumption of innocence and all those other rights that Watson lays out in his suit?

Amarillo City Attorney Marcus Norris said he believes the court will reduce the issues once it reviews the lawsuit. My own hunch is that the court might reduce them to zero, as in tossing the case out.

The lawsuit is as specious as they come.

If he hadn’t run the red light in the first place in Southlake, he wouldn’t be in a jam.

Count me as one who still strongly supports the red-light cameras in Amarillo. I do not want the Legislature to eliminate the law that allows cities to use them. Nor do I want the city to back down on its use because of complaints coming from a vocal minority of residents.