November 29, 2007
Red light tickets jump in October

Not a surprise.

The number of motorists nabbed by the city's red-light cameras spiked dramatically last month after the Houston Police Department added 20 locations and began citing illegal turns, records show.

The department noted about 27,000 violations last month, more than twice the total in September, according to a review of camera data released to the Houston Chronicle.

The 130 percent increase from September to October was not too much of a surprise, police say, because the state began requiring citations for illegal turns -- and because the new cameras went up at the city's busiest intersections.

"I expected an increase," said Martha Montalvo, an executive assistant chief who oversees officers tracking the program. "I had no idea what the increase was going to be."


Until now, the number of $75 violations had been decreasing. There were 14,808 violations in May, for example, but only 11,767 in September -- a 20 percent reduction.

The department in late August announced plans to install the additional 20 cameras to alternative approaches at intersections already being monitored. They began noting violations at them in October.


Police say about 3,600 turn violations were noted in October. The remaining increase came from the new locations, which accounted for nearly half the 27,000.

The new locations were chosen because they are busy. The average per-camera citation total for the original 50 locations was 290 in October. But the new cameras accounted for about 635 citations per approach, on average, according to the data.

There's an accompanying graphic that shows five new cameras accounted for 6212 citations all by themselves. Going by the 290-per-original-camera average cited about, the first 50 cameras generated 14,500 tickets, leaving 12,500 for the new ones. Taking out the top five total, the remaining 15 new cameras nabbed about 6300 violators, or about 420 per camera. In other words, even the lower-volume new cameras were busier than the older ones. I feel certain those totals will decline over time, perhaps sharply, but still. Makes you wonder why these new additions weren't higher up on the priority list to begin with.

The increase in citations, which presumably will bring in millions of dollars to city coffers, could fuel new complaints that the camera program is intended to generate revenue.

"It's about making money. It's very clear to me it's so obvious," said Randall Kallinen, a local civil rights lawyer. "It's just a revenue machine."

I really can't adequately express how completely unimpressed I've been with the arguments of the anti-camera folks. They've made the "revenue machine" claims all along, and show no sign of abating despite evidence from elsewhere that camera revenues decline over time, not to mention the state law that caps fines and directs much of that fine money to trauma centers. They continue to scoff about the effect on safety even though the bulk of the data we have so far shows that such an effect definitely exists. They carp about signage, as if drivers should need to be reminded that running red lights is illegal and dangerous and can bring undesired consequences, though none have made any claim that the city has failed to comply with state law on the matter. I've said before there are plenty of things about the cameras that ought to concern people, but what we get from the critics is mostly the same tired assertions, repeated over and over. What's strange about this is that in many cases, the things they've complained about were addressed by SB1119, but I never see any acknowledgment of that. It seems to me that if you still believe the cameras are money-grubbing, ineffective, unnecessary, or inadequately signed, you should be directing your ire at the Legislature for not going far enough in that bill, or for not banning the use of cameras altogether, as State Rep. Carl Isett (R, Lubbock) had tried to do for at least the past two sessions. Yet we're hearing the same arguments today as we did when the cameras were first introduced. I don't get it.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on November 29, 2007 to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

"I've said before there are plenty of things about the cameras that ought to concern people, but what we get from the critics is mostly the same tired assertions, repeated over and over."

Maybe they could set up a blog just to keep regurgitating the same things over and over in sort of a blog-performance-art piece that feels like a Warhol film, or "Waiting for Godot."

Oh, wait, they did.

Posted by: John on November 29, 2007 10:07 AM