October 15, 2008
Hold that registration!

The city wants to make it harder to not pay red light camera fines.

City officials hope to step up enforcement of Houston's red-light cameras by getting the state to deny vehicle registration renewal to drivers who do not pay up after repeated warnings.

A quarter of the drivers nabbed by the cameras have never paid the $75 citation. The result, officials said, is more than $7 million owed to city and state coffers.

Under a plan before the City Council this week, the city will work with the Texas Department of Transportation to place a "hold" on vehicle registration renewals until motorists' red-light penalties are paid. If approved, the plan could take effect before the end of the year.

"There are no consequences for not paying," admitted Joseph Fenninger, the chief financial officer for the Houston Police Department. The proposed arrangement will finally give the red-light camera program some "teeth," he said.


While 70 percent of red-light runners do pay the penalty, the other notices are eventually turned over to a collection agency hired by the camera contractor, Arizona-based American Traffic Solutions.

The collections process has been "largely ineffective," the HPD's Fenninger said, with an 18 percent success rate.

In principle, I have no objection to this. There should be a consequence for not paying this fine, and withholding registration renewals until that is done seems like a reasonable and proportionate response. How they want to go about it matters, and I'd prefer for them to take a less aggressive approach to a more aggressive one, but I think the idea is a valid one.

Paul Bettencourt, the Harris County Tax Assessor, says the city needs to move cautiously before using registration holds as an enforcement tool. His office handles vehicle registration on behalf of TxDOT.

"There are a significant number of technical things that have to happen first," Bettencourt said. "We've given the city a long list of items to consider, and we have not heard back."

The city must make sure its violations data is accurate and updated, and matches information kept by TxDOT, he said.

Again, I have no objections to this. It should be on the city to make sure they're dunning the right person, and if that means they need to do a check with TxDOT first, or to do an upgrade on their municipal court systems, then they should do those things. Seems to me the latter is something they'd want to do anyway, so let the goal of better fine collection serve as an incentive if need be.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on October 15, 2008 to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles
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