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Chron opines for red light cameras

No surprise here, and nothing new in the way of arguments. I’m sure there are plenty of people who haven’t formulated an opinion about red light cameras whose vote is up for grabs, but I don’t see a whole lot of minds being changed.

No word in the Chron yet about the lawsuit that was filed Friday to stop the red light camera referendum. A similar lawsuit, with very similar arguments, was filed in Baytown as well, with the difference being that the camera vendor is the plaintiff there. As with the Chron editorial, I’m just noting it for the record. We’ll see what happens.

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22 Comments

  1. Bluetexan says:

    Well, if they succeed in getting rid of the red light cameras, I’m sure each voter will be a-okay with paying a higher tax to make up the revenue? Look, we aren’t paying enough for the services we are receiving. The money has to come from somewhere. Might as well be from reckless drivers that put other people in danger who would have otherwise gotten away with it since cops cannot sit at every intersection in Houston.

  2. Ron in Houston says:

    I don’t know that I disagree with Bluetexan on “taxing” reckless drivers. It’s just there are so many problems with the red light cameras. However, if you’re taxing reckless drivers then you get the reckless drivers and not the owners of cars. Say your car gets stolen and the idiot that steals it is reckless (what are the odds?) Do you want to be forced to go down and fight each and every citation? That’s more than a bit insane to me.

    It’s a controversial issue which is why I think putting it to a vote is best.

  3. Bluetexan says:

    Ron in Houston…it seems you are advocating a solution in search of problem (sort of like the whole voter fraud issue). I’ve never heard anyone complain about their stolen vehicle being used to run red light cameras. Besides, don’t you think the cameras might actually help the police figure out where the hell your vehicle is? Nevertheless there is a solution to this problem.

    “What if I am not the driver/owner of the vehicle at the time of the violation?

    If your vehicle was stolen or sold at the time of violation, or was being test driven by another person, you may submit a sworn statement to that effect to the Court to rebut the presumption, that you were driving the vehicle at the time of the violation.”

    http://www.houstontx.gov/police/traffic_safety/trafficsafety_faq.htm

    If your buddy borrows your car, you are responsible for their behavior. If they run a red light camera, you make them pay you back. If they run a red light and kill someone with your car, don’t think for a second you won’t be sued. Best not to lend your car to anyone in the first place.

  4. Ron in Houston says:

    Bluetexan

    There have been tons of complaints about red light cameras, Many on this blog. Probably many more on the blog Grits for Breakfast.

    You ignore the fact that if your car is stolen – you did nothing wrong. Why is the government trying to fine you? Shouldn’t they be required to cross check with the stolen vehicle database before sending out a fine notice? You’re already trying to deal with the problems of having your car stolen and then you need to take time to deal with the city when you did nothing wrong? That’s BS. That’s just one of the many problems with automated red light cameras.

    If you lend your car to someone you are only responsible for damage caused by their negligence. Who is damaged if they go through a light two seconds after it turns red? Are you seriously that naive about your buddy paying you back? You’d hope they would, but the reality in many cases will be sorely different.

    You missed my whole point. If you want to hold PEOPLE responsible for poor driving you ticket PEOPLE. Not cars.

  5. Bluetexan says:

    Ron…really, this stolen vehicle situation you seem so worked up about is small beans. How many people do you know that have experienced this exact scenario? Yes, it sucks to have your car stolen. Lots of paper work will ensue. Filling out one more form if a thief runs a red light isn’t going to kill you. Besides your stolen car will end up in pieces in less than a few hours or its plates will be changed, so this whole theory you are worried about isn’t going to be a recurring problem, if ever. If filling out forms related to car ownership is too big of a hassle for you, perhaps you should consider public transit or taxis.

    Who is damaged if someone goes through a red light? The public. A civil offense occurred and you as the owner of the vehicle are responsible for it. You don’t own the highways, the public does. A driver in your car is not allowed to do whatever the hell they want with it.

    And if you lend your car to a friend that doesn’t pay you back, you need new friends. That’s not my problem. But it is my problem if your friend runs a red light in your car and kills / injuries someone in my family.

  6. What other reason do you need than the cameras don’t do what they advertise? Accidents increase at camera intersections. Here in Baytown the Baytown PD reported to TXDOT a 40% increase in total accidents, a 75% increase in injury accidents and a 37% increase in red light related tbone accidents. Bluetexan’s whole premise is based on the false assumption that having a camera makes a difference. 30 years of camera data and they still can’t conclusively show they are making a difference. Innocent drivers get caught in the cameras every day, that is how they are designed to work. Penalizing someone that wasn’t driving is hardly a good way to modify the habits of the one that was driving. The tax argument is weak anyway, how much tax revenue is the city loosing because millions of dollars are being sent to the state and to Arizona? That’s millions that could be circulating here being spent and raising sales tax revenue. It should be easy for you to prove that position. 15 states have banned photoenforcement 10 cities have voted them out, find one that raised taxes because they lost out on the camera revenue and we can talk, otherwise it is just political speculation.

  7. Bluetexan says:

    Well obviously Mr. Schirmbeck, you’ve made it your life’s work to fight red light cameras. Everyone has to have an obsession I guess. “Innocent drivers” getting caught? You aren’t innocent if you run a red light. Penalizing an owner of a car that was used to run a red light is certainly a good way to modify habits. It makes you stop lending your car to people who break the law.

    Please attach a link of your economic study proving red light camera fines make a dent in sales tax revenue.

    “…find one that raised taxes because they lost out on the camera revenue and we can talk, otherwise it is just political speculation.” Funny, I think your premise is speculation too!

    Even if red light cameras don’t reduce crashes…I don’t care. Everyday I see idiots going through red lights because they think they own the road. If they think they are so important to not obey traffic laws, then they can have the privilege for a small price of $75 a pop.

  8. My “life’s work”? I have been bringing to light the abusive and dangerous camera systems and their problems for about a year and a half and I am about to turn 40. That isn’t even 1% of my life. I can point out 1700 innocent drivers in League city that were illegally ticketed because the city had a dangerous and illegally short yellow light. Those are drivers that got a ticket that wouldn’t have if the light was properly timed. Because of my working with the Chief of Police on this issue they refunded or dismissed 1700 tickets that never should have been issued. I can point you to several examples of people getting tickets because their vehicle had similar plates to the one in the violation, but the car wasn’t even close to being the same as what was in the photo. They don’t care as long as you pay. Do you really need to do a study to know that taking millions out of a local economy is going to have an effect? Isn’t that something that reasonable people would agree with? Claiming that taxes are going to go up if the cameras come down is a far less reasonable assumption, but should be easy to demonstrate by looking at other cities and states that have gotten rid of the cameras if you want to really make that point. I notice that when someone takes the position you have it usually boils down to something similar to what you said, an argument that you don’t care if it causes accidents, siphons money out of state or deprives us of certain protections from the government as long as those dirty red light runners pay. It is a highly emotional argument, and it really doesn’t make sense when you know the facts. I hate red light runners too, that is why I would never support a system that decriminalizes running a red light and lets the worst red light runners get away with no penalty. I just don’t understand the argument that all of the problems with the cameras are just fine because at least that red light runner is going to get a $75 ticket in the mail he probably won’t pay and leave him on the street to keep running as many lights as he wants because now the cops aren’t really paying attention to red light runners anymore.

  9. Ron in Houston says:

    Um, Bluetexan, I’d call you more than a little obsessed with making those horrible awful red light runners pay. But, hey, what the heck do I know?

    I do think public policy should be based on scientifically applied principles. However, as Charles has pointed out the data seem to be both for and against red light cameras.

    Maybe someone needs to do a metadata analysis of all those reports.

  10. Someone already did, USF health department did a peer reviewed analysis of all of the available reports and concluded the ones that showed an improvement were seriously flawed where the largest studies with the best methods showed increases.

    “The USF report highlights trends in red-light running in Florida, summarizes major studies, and analyzes the automobile insurance industry’s financial interest in cameras. Among the findings:

    •Traffic fatalities caused by red-light running are not increasing in Florida and account for less than 4 percent of the state’s yearly traffic deaths. In contrast, more than 22 percent of the state’s traffic fatalities occur at intersections for reasons other than red-light running.
    •The injury rate from red-light running crashes has dropped by a third in less than a decade, indicating red-light running crashes have been continually declining in Florida without the use of cameras.
    •Comprehensive studies from North Carolina, Virginia, and Ontario have all reported cameras are significantly associated with increases in crashes, as well as crashes involving injuries. The study by the Virginia Transportation Research Council also found that cameras were linked to increased crash costs.
    •Some studies that conclude cameras reduced crashes or injuries contained major “research design flaws,” such as incomplete data or inadequate analyses, and were conducted by researchers with links to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The IIHS, funded by automobile insurance companies, is the leading advocate for red-light cameras. Insurers can profit from red-light cameras, since their revenues will increase when higher premiums are charged due to the crash and citation increase, the researchers say.”

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/03/080311151159.htm

  11. Bluetexan says:

    “Do you really need to do a study to know that taking millions out of a local economy is going to have an effect? Isn’t that something that reasonable people would agree with?” Yes, I do. It sounds like you are making an emotional argument to me.

    “Claiming that taxes are going to go up if the cameras come down is a far less reasonable assumption, but should be easy to demonstrate by looking at other cities and states that have gotten rid of the cameras if you want to really make that point.”

    I never claimed they would go up, I claimed they SHOULD go up. Contrary to the “taxed enough already” people, our cities are running on fumes. Either we need to increase taxes or services need to be cut…drastically. Yet, when pressed to identify what services they would be willing to cut, people can’t seem to come to any agreement. Turns out they like the services they get, they just don’t want to pay for them.

    As an example, we need way more cops, but no one wants to pay for them. And the last thing I want is new cops sitting on street corners catching red light runners. Why do that when we can leave it to the cameras.

    “I just don’t understand the argument that all of the problems with the cameras are just fine because at least that red light runner is going to get a $75 ticket in the mail he probably won’t pay and leave him on the street to keep running as many lights as he wants because now the cops aren’t really paying attention to red light runners anymore.” Sounds like you are making another one of those emotional arguments…

  12. Sorry blue, when you said “Well, if they succeed in getting rid of the red light cameras, I’m sure each voter will be a-okay with paying a higher tax to make up the revenue?” that sounded to me like a cause and effect speculation, I don’t see where you said “SHOULD” go up, it reads to me like they WILL go up if the cameras come down. At least we are agreed on a few things, cameras coming down doesn’t mean taxes will go up and we need more cops on the streets. If you are so against red light runners why wouldn’t you want a cop to catch them to give them a ticket they could go to jail for if they don’t pay it? Why wouldn’t you want the cop to be able to look for expired licenses, arrest warrants, illegal drugs or weapons and other things that can actually take a red light runner of the streets? none of which a camera can do. Why would you want those horrible red light runners to keep running red lights with no penalty for doing so? I’ll stick with wanting the safest intersections possible and the harshest penalties for red light runners.

  13. Bluetexan says:

    “If you are so against red light runners why wouldn’t you want a cop to catch them to give them a ticket they could go to jail for if they don’t pay it? Why wouldn’t you want the cop to be able to look for expired licenses, arrest warrants, illegal drugs or weapons and other things that can actually take a red light runner of the streets?”

    Because a cop might catch a couple of red light runners in a day. A camera catches ALL of them. Too expensive to have cops sitting at intersections 24 hours a day.

    “Why would you want those horrible red light runners to keep running red lights with no penalty for doing so?”

    That’s why we need a state wide law to prevent drivers from being able to renew their registrations if they haven’t paid outstanding fines. Pretty simple solution.

  14. But cameras don’t catch all of them, not even close, and catch a lot of innocent people in the process. In fact there are many techniques that the worst red light runners know that will allow them to totally blow a red light long after it is red and not even trigger the cameras. I have seen this with my own two eyes in front of me. And I asked a police officer friend of mine about it and he said the police know about it and they use them too because they can get a ticket if they are caught on camera! So now you have the worst, most flagrant red light runners, the ones that cause accidents not getting caught on camera at all, or if they do they throw away their ticket because there won’t be any penalty for not paying and because cops aren’t watching for red light runners anymore they probably won’t ever pay. That doesn’t sound too tough on red light runners to me. Who says have cops sitting at intersections 24 hours a day? I sure don’t. Stationary observation and intermittant police presence at an intersection have a remedial effect. You drive over certain parts of I-10 you know where the cops usually set up and even if they aren’t there you slow down thinking they might be there. It already is state law that registrations can be red flagged, problem is, the county doesn’t get a cut of the money and is afraid that collecting the fines would cut into their money for registration renewal so they don’t do it.

  15. Ron in Houston says:

    Byron

    Thanks for the link to the USF study.

  16. mary t. says:

    Is there proof that the cameras don’t catch all of the red light runners, and would the law enforcement officers and others who know how to avoid being captured on camera running lights testify to that fact against cameras and how ineffective they are? That would be some pretty powerful evidence against red light cameras–so do you have any proof, or is it frien-of-a-friend information?

  17. No problem Ron. Mary, as I have said, I have seen it myself with my own two eyes. That isn’t friend of a friend. I saw a guy run a light LONG after it was red, it was late at night and no flash, (yes the camera and flash were working properly) and I started wondering how that was, so I used my engineering background to figure it out, then I talked DIRECTLY to a police officer friend of mine who knew all about it before I even told him how because they use it all the time. So what kind of proof do you want? You want to meet me at a camera location? Then one of us could deliberately run a red light? Not a good idea, or I can videotape someone and then a lot more red light runners know about it that haven’t figured out, another bad idea. Don’t know if any cops would come out and say that, they probably don’t want their bosses to know they have been doing it. Same problem we have with a lot of the law enforcement officers who don’t like the cameras, they won’t say anything publically because it goes against the city and the politically appointed chief. I know it happens, I have seen it and I have confirmed it with police officers. If you want details go to my website linked to my name and send me an email asking about it and I will send you the details privately.

  18. Forgot to add, I also emailed the camera company saying I observed this activity and explained to them what I saw, sent it several times to several people at the company, no response, the camera company knows there is a HUGE flaw in their system, but they don’t care if they get the worst red light runners as long as they get the ones that will pay.

  19. mary t. says:

    Byron,

    have you made the city or law enforcement officials aware or the situation? Letting the vendor who makes money off of the cameras know is great, but they’ve got the contract and they’re not going to compromise that by making it known.

    This is a serious flaw if it exists, and you seem to be willing to go on the record about it. The law enforcement officers who know about it should be willing to go public, too. As someone who supports the cameras, this would be compelling proof that the cameras are not making the streets safe if they are not catching offenders and even more importantly would be proof that law enforcement officers and others know and utilize the loophole, endangering others.

    Maybe some investigative reporter would be interested if city and law enforcement officials are not.

    Thank you for your response.

  20. Ron in Houston says:

    mary

    I’d suggest you read the site linked to Byron’s comments.

    The fascinating one I hadn’t contemplated was his advocacy in League City, TX.

    If the yellow light is shortened, whether by human intervention or mechanical reasons, suddenly tickets will skyrocket. If you think about it, it makes sense. A yellow light must be of sufficient length to allow those who cannot stop for the green to safely clear the intersection.

    It’s easy to say “lets beat up on unsafe drivers.” However, any mechanical system is going to have vast potential for flaws and failures.

  21. Mary, they all know about it, it doesn’t take long for things to get around a police station. So far as our city officials, I have brought numerous problems and violations to their attention at council meetings including the camera company throwing out tickets to make it appear violations have dropped, (charles covered this) they just don’t care. If a reporter wanted to get the details from me I would help them out depending on how they would hide the details of how to do it. I could gain a lot by getting that info out there, but it could also encourage more red light running, don’t want that to happen so I am kind of stuck

  22. Craig says:

    You know how to stop red light running? Lengthen yellow lights. It’s not rocket science. And it doesn’t just make a temporary difference, it fixes the problem.

    http://goldiron.wordpress.com/2010/04/14/california-city-dumps-red-light-camera-after-increasing-yellow/

    “When the camera was initially activated we were averaging approximately ten violations a day,” Reid said. “After these adjustments were made to the yellow light duration, it actually reduced the violations down to two violations per day. After continued monitoring of the intersections… we concluded that the violations had been reduced in the area significantly. Back in October we were actually below two and down to 1.5 violations per day… At the end of December we ran statistical data… and found there was another reduction down to 1.3 violations.”

    With the location now losing $2213 per month, police officials intended to move the camera to a more lucrative location. The intersection of Holly Street and Industrial Road topped the list of possibilities because a prior test had shown the location could generate 61 tickets over a given test period. Additional signal timing changes made to the location from an advanced loop detection system, however, improved traffic flow to such a degree that violations dropped down to zero in a subsequent test. Redflex checked another eleven intersections and failed to find a location that would be profitable. As a result, city leaders lost interest in the program.”