A state senator is vowing to eliminate red light cameras at intersections across Texas.
Following an investigation by Austin TV station KXAN that found the vast majority of Texas cities aren’t complying with the state’s red light camera law — which requires them to conduct traffic engineering studies prior to implementation — Sen. Don Huffines (R-Dallas) said he will file legislation to prevent Texas cities from using those cameras to assess civil fines.
Prior to 2007, the state had no rules for how cities could use red light cameras to fine drivers, which Rep. Jim Murphy (R-Houston), who introduced the bill that created the implementation requirements, called “the Wild West of red-light cameras.”
Current law mandates that cities prove a scientific need for the cameras at intersections in which they are to be used, and the recent KXAN report found that only three of 50 cities that sent records to the TV station had the required studies on hand.
Huffines told KXAN that “it’s outrageous that so many cities are ignoring Texas law.”
He said he will file bills to roll back the cameras when the Texas Legislature reconvenes in 2019.
“Red light cameras are unpopular, unsafe, and unjust,” he said in a written statement to KXAN. “It’s past time to turn off every red light camera in Texas.”
Red light cameras have proven controversial since their introduction — not just in Texas, but also in many other states. Some argue they violate constitutional protections of due process since alleged violators cannot face their accuser — a camera — in court.
Car owners could also face fines even if they weren’t driving the vehicle. That’s because Texas cities only have to tie the license plate to the registered owner and don’t have to prove who was actually behind the wheel when a violation occurred.
The Texas Monitor examined various studies of red light cameras conducted over the years and a common theme emerged: the cameras tend to reduce right-angle crashes but lead to an increase in rear-end collisions, as drivers slam on their brakes to avoid running red lights.
This 2010 study by the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M found that red light cameras “may or may not reduce total crashes” and “should not be considered a substitute for proper traffic engineering of signalized intersections.”
A 2005 study by the Federal Highway Administration had previously come to similar conclusions, although it showed a clearer increase in rear-end collisions. The FHWA study noted there was a modest economic benefit in those intersections with red light cameras because crashes at right angles tend to be more severe, causing more property damage and bodily harm. Perhaps this is the telling aspect of the bureaucratic study — the FHWA noted the increased cost of red light cameras systems “pay for themselves through red-light-running fines generated.”
U.S. Public Interest Research Group said in a 2011 report that red light cameras had essentially devolved into a money grab whereby local governments and private firms contracted to operate the systems considered revenue first and safety second.
The National Motorists Association, an opponent of red light cameras, argues on its website that “the preponderance of independent research (in other words, research that was not funded by ticket camera vendors or units of government interested in justifying camera-based traffic enforcement) has illustrated that ticket cameras typically increase, not decrease, the number of accidents at controlled intersections.”