September 18, 2006
"The first rule of Red Light Club is don't talk about Red Light Club"

I suppose I'm not surprised that some enterprising citizen is planning a lawsuit to challenge the legality of the new red light cameras. I am surprised - a bit surprised, anyway - that he thought announcing his intentions ahead of time, including the time and place, was a good idea.

As he announced publicly last week he would do, Harris County bondsman Michael Kubosh carefully ran the red light at the intersection of Milam and Elgin, one of 10 locations around the city where cameras began snapping photos of violators at the beginning of this month. He and his brother Paul Kubosh, a traffic lawyer who will represent him, have been fighting the legality of red-light cameras for years, saying it's not an effective way to enhance public safety.

But a police officer who staked him out at the scene - and even asked for his license beforehand - quickly pulled him over for the violation. A ticket issued by an officer overrides any camera-based citation.

"They are afraid of the challenge we're going to give them in court,'' Michael Kubosh said.

He now plans to run a red light at another time - just more discreetly.

Kubosh is the slightly nutty Dem candidate for SD07. (He's also been a financial backer of his opponent, which is why local Dems haven't exactly embraced his candidacy.) This is probably the best publicity he'll get for that campaign, not that it'll make much difference.

Be that as it may, Kubosh is doing this to get red light cameras declared illegal by a court. Given that the Attorney General has issued an opinion saying there's no law preventing cities from doing this, I'm not even sure what grounds he'll sue on, but I guess we'll find out once he fixes the bugs in his civil disobedience strategy.

How does one "carefully" run a red light, by the way?

To avoid causing a crash, the pair planned the violation at 7 a.m., when downtown streets are nearly empty. Family members stood on either side of the intersection and waved large white flags when cars approached. When it was clear, Michael Kubosh ran the light. Soon after a police car flashed its lights behind him.

The officer who gave him the ticket, John Nickell, declined to comment, saying only that he was following orders.

Kubosh said police may have turned off the camera system during the incident, but HPD spokesman Sgt. Nate McDuell said that was untrue. It wasn't necessary, he said, because the officer's ticket takes precedence over the camera.

"It's an unfortunate form of protest and we're fortunate that no one was injured or killed as a result of this illegal behavior,'' he said.

Good to know for the future. And what does that future hold for Michael Kubosh?

Critics like the Kubosh brothers say the system instead is designed to raise revenue for the city and the camera vendor, Phoenix-based American Traffic Solutions Inc.

Now that Michael Kubosh has been issued a ticket, he could be the one adding cash to the city's coffers.

"The proper way to do this is to have a police officer (catch the violator), as they have here this morning,'' he said. "I'm going to have to face the ticket that everyone should have.''

And we're back to the "it's all about revenue!" criticism. I suppose one way the city could counter this is to argue that they should be given some leeway to find efficient ways to enforce the traffic laws (no one is going to argue that Houston doesn't have a lot of red light runners, right?), especially in times of scarce police resources. Why should they have to post patrol officers at these intersections when a camera will do the job for a fraction of the cost? That doesn't address other concerns (like privacy, which is still my main qualm about the whole thing), and it assumes that the cameras will be effective (we'll know more when the numbers are published about collision frequencies), but it seems like a pretty cogent point to me. What do you think?

Posted by Charles Kuffner on September 18, 2006 to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles | TrackBack

That doesn't address other concerns (like privacy, which is still my main qualm about the whole thing),

It also doesn't address due-process concerns, which is my main qualm about the whole thing. Presumption of guilt because a camera got a photo of a license plate registered to you (not a face, but a license plate -- the adminstration declined to require a system that would provide positive ID even though some Councilmembers pushed for that) is problematic for me. It's a shame it's not more problematic for the civil-libertarian set.

Since the administration has stated flat out that it will not be putting major signage up at intersections with red-light cameras (like many others place do), it does call into question the "it's all about safety" contention). It's not just about safety, and it's not just about revenue (in my view). But if it were only about safety and not at all about revenue, there would be a much better education campaign, including better signage in intersections (which the administration flat-out says will not be changing).

Instead, the mayor's big public education push is not to give change to hobos.

Posted by: Kevin Whited on September 18, 2006 8:13 AM

The due process concern is a valid one. People can contest these tickets, though, so it's not clear to me yet how big a concern this will be. And it's not clear to me that using cameras that would include face shots is any less worrisome from a privacy perspective.

Your concern about lack of signage, though, doesn't impress me at all. Do we really need to put up signs at intersections to remind people that running red lights is against the law and can cause you to get ticketed? If we followed the Kubosh plan of using officers to patrol these intersections, would you argue that the city needed to post signs warning of ambient patrol cars? Please. Sorry, but this is bogus.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on September 18, 2006 9:17 AM

One time I ran a red light like that because some "panhandler" really really wanted my car. No, I didn't get his identification in case I had to prove it to a judge.

Posted by: Charles Hixon on September 18, 2006 11:18 AM

Well, I've been caught by one of those red light cameras, and the picture was pretty darned impressive. Good luck on your due process challenges, guys (and that threatening panhandler was nowhere in my picture -- darn).

Posted by: David in NY on September 19, 2006 2:50 PM

Last Friday, 12/22/06, I debated this topic with Mr. Kubosh on a national radio program. His big point is that the cameras are merely a revenue-generating vehicle for the cities that use them, which is just not true. They are being used to save lives, they are saving lives, and if you don't want to pay the high cost of a red light ticket, don't run red lights...simple as that.

Posted by: Reed Berry on December 26, 2006 2:01 PM

"Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom.
It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves."
--William Pitt, 1783

Posted by: Sherry Hightower on January 16, 2007 2:12 AM