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Watch those right-on-red turns

Get ready for another red light camera modification.

Motorists making illegal turns at the 50 intersections monitored by Houston’s red-light cameras so far have avoided citations because of a loophole in the city’s ordinance.

City Council could close that loophole today when members consider an updated red-light camera ordinance that reflects several new laws passed by the Legislature earlier this year.

Among many changes that affect how the Houston Police Department spends revenue and monitors crashes, the new ordinance authorizes officers to issue camera citations to motorists who turn without stopping at a red light, a violation of state law.

“In the past, there has been no violation for that,” said Joseph Fenninger, the Houston Police Department’s chief financial officer. “There will be from this point forward.”

[…]

The loophole was intended to avoid ambiguity about whether motorists actually stopped. The new ordinance cuts a section that defined violations as incidents that did not involve turns, and defers to the Texas Transportation Code on definitions, said Kuruvilla Oommen, an assistant city attorney who worked on the changes.

The Texas Transportation Code states that a motorist can turn at a red light only after “stopping, standing until the intersection may be entered safely, and yielding right-of-way to pedestrians lawfully in an adjacent crosswalk and other traffic lawfully using the intersection.”

The code was amended in the last session under a bill sponsored by Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands.

That bill requires revisions to Houston’s ordinance. In addition to requiring the definition of a violation come from the state code, Williams’ law requires cities to send half their red-light camera profits, after maintenance and operations, to a state trauma fund.

This change is a long time in coming – it was first discussed last September. The story notes that had the ordinance been written originally to allow for the ticketing of “California-stop” right turners, the city would have made a lot more money in tickets. Now, with the new state law that limits and redistributes revenue from red light cameras, that’s pretty much moot. Which won’t stop anyone from claiming that it’s all a money grab, of course.

Councilman Adrian Garcia, a former police officer who chairs City Council’s public safety committee, said turns were not included in the original ordinance to “err on the side of caution” and avoid innocent motorists getting citations.

He is more confident now.

“The technology allows us to track the frames to see how fast the vehicles are going,” he said.

While he said he trusts the cameras, Garcia said he still is not sure whether the system has served its purpose.

“My jury’s still out,” he said, adding in jest: “It is making sure to keep my behavior in check.”

With all due respect, if the data about collisions and injuries at the camera-enabled intersections were ever made public as we were led to believe it would someday be, we could all come to better conclusions about the program’s effectiveness. It’s been a year now. What are we waiting for?

UPDATE: Tagged for a week.

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2 Comments

  1. kevin whited says:

    ** Councilman Adrian Garcia, a former police officer who chairs City Council’s public safety committee, said turns were not included in the original ordinance to “err on the side of caution” and avoid innocent motorists getting citations.

    He is more confident now.

    “The technology allows us to track the frames to see how fast the vehicles are going,” he said.

    While he said he trusts the cameras…. **

    He didn’t trust the system (technology and people) before, but now he does?

    So what has changed in the meantime?

    I don’t especially trust this system to get these sorts of things right, and we know from Ken Hoffman that clearing up bureaucratic presumption-of-guilt snafus can be problematic even for well-known newspaper columnists.

    I can only imagine what it will be like for normal people who can’t ring up a local official or two and have their calls taken.

  2. He didn’t trust the system (technology and people) before, but now he does?

    So what has changed in the meantime?

    Simple: The system has been in place for a year now, so now it can be evaluated by direct observation, rather than by vendor testimony. He’s changed his mind about it, and you haven’t. Nothing wrong with either of those conclusions.