Tag Archives: red light cameras

What happened to ‘local control is best’?

I am still steamed at the Texas Legislature for wrestling away from cities in the state the ability to enact ordinances aimed at protecting motorists and pedestrians who venture onto our public streets.

The 2019 Legislature decided it had earned enough griping from motorists bitching about a phony notion that they were unable to “face their accuser” and ordered cities to no longer deploy cameras at intersections to catch motorists running through red lights.

You know, of course, that red lights mean “stop.” Too many Texans choose to ignore that command, so they run through the intersections. They have in many cities produced spikes in “t-bone” crashes, resulting in serious injury and death.

An earlier Legislature decided to give cities that right. Many of them did. I lived in a city that deployed red-light cameras. Amarillo, though, was forced to take them down because of legislative edict. I now live in a city, Princeton, that doesn’t govern itself under a home-rule charter, so it must follow state law where it applies; absent a home-rule charter, Princeton couldn’t have activated red-light cameras even if it sought to do so.

My wife and I have just returned from a brief visit to Amarillo. Our visit there reminded me once again of the fight that ensued when the city council showed some serious courage in enacting the ordinance that resulted in red-light cameras. The city traffic engineer and police department had identified intersections where red-light runners had caused undue havoc, mayhem and misery. They deployed the cameras and, lo and behold, they found that the cameras deterred lawbreakers.

One of the chief complaints came from those who said the cameras denied motorists the right to face their accuser. Baloney!

The cameras snapped a picture of the license plate of the offending vehicle; the city then identified the owner of the vehicle and sent him or her a $75 infraction notice. It then fell on the owner of the vehicle to pay the fine, or get whoever was driving the vehicle to pay it or they could protest it to the municipal judge.

Well, that’s all history now. I recall fondly the statement made in public by then-City Councilwoman Ellen Green, who scolded red-light camera opponents by declaring in essence, that all they had to do to was “stop running red lights.”


Whatever happened to the noble principle that “local control is better” than big government?

Still steamed over red-light cameras’ demise

I must admit that I am still angry with the 2019 Texas Legislature, which in itself is no great flash. A lot of Texans are angry with legislators for a lot of reasons.

My main source of anger stems from legislators’ decision to pull the plug on red-light cameras that cities have deployed to help police enforce traffic laws. I mean, too many motorists are none too inclined to obey red lights at intersections which are intended to order motorists to stop and not proceed until the light turns green.

The result has been serious automobile crashes. Motorists occasionally stop and then race through the intersections before the light changes from red to green. Or, they just keep on racing on through.

Dallas city traffic officials reported this past week that the red-light cameras had helped reduce auto accidents. They also generated revenue for the city to use on traffic infrastructure improvements, which the Legislature required of cities when it enacted the red-light camera law in the first place.

Then came the pronouncement from Gov. Greg Abbott, who signaled his willingness to sign legislation banning cameras when it got to his desk. The Legislature delivered it to him and, by golly, he kept his word. Dammit, anyway!

At least the Legislature had the good taste to allow cities to keep the cameras deployed until their vendor contracts had expired. Indeed, my wife and I recently visited Amarillo, where we lived for 23 years before moving to the Metroplex, and noticed that the city still has it cameras working. They’ll be unplugged in due course.

As a social media acquaintance of mine noted in reaction to an earlier blog post on the subject, driving on public streets is a “privilege” and not a right guaranteed for motorists, who all they have to do to avoid getting cited by cities is just follow the law.

Don’t run through the red lights!

Cameras make streets safer, so let’s get rid of ’em!

What do you know about this?

Dallas city transportation officials are boasting about the effectiveness of the red-light cameras that the city used to deploy. They made the streets safer, but because the Legislature and Gov. Greg Abbott wanted to get rid of them, the city is being forced to unplug the cameras.

What a travesty!

The city isn’t alone. The 2019 Texas Legislature enacted a law that ordered cities to do away with the devices once their current vendor contracts expired. Dallas’ time has come. The city must pull the plug the cameras.

Get a load of this, though: The city says the cameras did their job in helping the police enforce traffic laws. It contributed to a reduction in T-bone wrecks at intersections.

I long have supported the idea of cities using the devices to help police enforce these laws. The cameras take pictures of vehicles that run through red lights. The city then sends citations to the owner of the offending vehicle. The owner then must pay a fine at municipal court or, if he or she feels the citation was issued incorrectly, he or she can appeal the citation.

Yes, cities also derive revenue from these cameras. Dallas stands to lose $2.5 million to $3 million annually, according to city officials. The Legislature, though, mandated that cities must use the revenue to enhance traffic programs. Dallas officials say their traffic infrastructure needs repair and the money generated by the cameras helped fund those repairs.

As the Dallas Morning News reported: The Texas Legislature “took another tool away from us,” said Michael Rogers, director of Dallas’ Department of Transportation, forcing city officials to rethink how to reduce crashes at problematic intersections.

I don’t live in Dallas. I do live close enough to the city to be somewhat concerned about the demise of these devices, given that I occasionally venture into the belly of the traffic beast on occasion.

I am sorry to hear the news that Dallas is bidding goodbye to a valuable law enforcement tool.

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.


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.