Capitol Hall Report – March 23, 2017 – The End of Red Light Cameras?

The End of Red Light Cameras?

As Vice-Chairman of Senate Committee on Transportation, I am pleased to announce that  my Senate Bill 88 was passed out of the Senate Committee on Transportation, March 15, 2017 .  Senate Bill 88 prohibits any unmanned photographic traffic signal enforcement systems in the state of Texas, commonly known as Red Light Cameras. This bill to end the use of unmanned cameras to issue citations was in response to constituent complaints that the citation process violates the constitution and multiple studies showing that the presence of the cameras actually increase accidents.  Also, establishes a statewide red light camera ban is a priority item in the republican platform.

First issue: When a law enforcement officer takes action based on an observation by the officer, they issue a citation to the person operating the vehicle.  The driver is recognized and identified at the scene as the traffic violator. This officer led process recognizes that the driver, not the vehicle committed the traffic violation.

However, with an unmanned automatic traffic camera system, only the vehicle is identified as the violator at the scene of the crime, but the vehicle owner, not necessarily the driver, is charged and prosecuted for the crime.

When a person appears in court for a ticket issued by an officer, that person is considered innocent by the court until the well-established 14th amendment process is followed and through the person is proven guilty. The burden of proof is on the court and the process has many safe guards in place to ensure that constitutional rights are not violated.

This is not so with the unmanned automated traffic camera system, because once the camera indiscriminately clicks, the vehicle owner is assumed to be the violator. This owner, who may not have even been in the vehicle, is presumed to be the person who committed the violation. To make matters worse, the innocent owner has the burden of proof and often great expense of proving that they are not liable.  This is an unjust and tremendous burden on working people who can ill-afford a high priced attorney.

Second issue: Public safety.  Today there is increasing concern for the safety of motorists on our roadways.  The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety estimates that there are more than 800 fatalities and 200,000 injuries annually in the United States as a result of red light running.  Although proponents have argued, and will continue to argue even today, that red light cameras deter unsafe driving behavior, the facts say otherwise.

For instance, a Texas Transportation Institute study found that the vast majority of red light camera tickets are issued within the first second a light is red.  Yet the majority of right-angle crashes occur after 5 seconds or more of red light time.  In other words, tickets are often being issued for split-second violations where collisions are not occurring until several seconds later.

At first glance, red light cameras may appear to be a good idea.  However, there are numerous studies by prestigious organizations showing that these cameras clearly actually increase crashes and injuries.

A significant study was completed by the Urban Transit Institute at the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University using 57 months of data.  The study concluded that red light cameras are a detriment to safety.  Cameras were associated with:

(1)        A significant increase in accident rates (40%).
(2)        A significant increase in possible injury crashes (40-50%); and
(3)        No decrease in severe crashes.

Another comprehensive study by the Virginia Transportation Research Council analyzed camera programs in five jurisdictions using seven years of data.  The study concluded that their findings (and I quote) “cannot be used to justify the widespread installation of cameras because they are not universally effective.”  Like the North Carolina study, they found that cameras were associated with a significant increase in total crashes.  They also found that rear-end collisions were considerably more likely with red light cameras.

In addition to the safety issues, red light cameras also are implicated in a number of constitutional issues, both on the state and federal level.  These include denying the right of a vehicle owner to a trial by an impartial jury, and denying an accused the right to substantive due process.

All of these facts undermine the argument of local entities operating these systems who say that red light cameras are completely legal and effective  at deterring unsafe driving behavior.

In conclusion, let me say that if a municipality has as its objective increased public traffic safety, then there are many non-punitive, simple and inexpensive measures available to actually make the traffic flow environment safer for motorists and pedestrians WITHOUT trampling constitutional rights.

Therefore we have filed Senate Bill 88, prohibiting unmanned photographic traffic enforcement, to permanently protect individual rights and end an unsafe practice in Texas.