February 26, 2007
More red light camera legislation

While some legislators want to ban red light cameras, others would prefer to regulate them.

Cities and the state would share revenues from fines collected as a result of red-light cameras - but those fines also would be capped at $75 per violation - under compromise legislation proposed Wednesday by the chairman of the Senate transportation committee.

The compromise measure by Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, received a good initial response from city and police officials - including several from the Dallas area - who had come to Austin on Wednesday to testify against bills that would either ban the use of red-light cameras by cities or take their fines and send the money to the state.

"I think we've reached a compromise that is acceptable," Mr. Carona said. "This makes good sense because it takes the financial incentive out of the process and assures that these cameras are used for public safety purposes."

Mr. Carona said his legislation was prompted by the "proliferation of red-light cameras" across the state since the Legislature inadvertently approved their use in 2003. He said he also wants to put the brakes on some cities that are levying fines of $150 or more on motorists who are caught on camera running red lights.

"My concern is that these cameras are being used more as a tool to generate revenues than for public safety," he said. "We want to remove the motive for profit" in installing cameras at intersections.

Under the compromise, there would be a statewide maximum fine of $75 for first-time offenses. Revenue from fines would first be used to operate the cameras - about 35 percent to 40 percent of the money - and the remaining money would be split equally between the state and cities. That would mean cities could get roughly $20 from each offense.

The bill would require the city to use its profits for public safety and transportation-related needs, while the state would deposit its share in the state trauma care fund and the Texas Mobility Fund.

In addition, cities would have to do a traffic study before they could place cameras at an intersection.

The first part of this legislation, to limit the fine for a first offense, would not affect Houston's implementation, as the fine here is already $75. I'm not sure about the rest of it - I presume Houston did some sort of study, as I presume they didn't pick locations at random - but whether that meets Sen. Carona's legal definition or not, I couldn't say.

The story mentions that some Dallas-area cities were okay with Carona's proposal. I was curious as to what the city of Houston thought, so I placed a call to Frank Michel of Mayor White's office and asked him. He said that he hadn't seen all the specifics of Carona's bill, but that his understanding was that it only affected TxDOT-controlled intersections. He said that since it's cities that bear the brunt of the cost of accidents that occur due to red light running, they should be able to use the revenues generated to help offset those costs, but beyond that he had no problem with sharing the revenue with the state. We'll see what happens if Carona's bill advances in the Senate.

Meanwhile, there are some other bills floating around as well.

State Rep. Chente Quintanilla, D-El Paso, filed a bill that would require the time between a yellow light and a red light be determined by consistent state standards at intersections with red-light cameras. He said that would be fairer to drivers.

"That's what we're trying to do - synchronize all lights in this state so that everyone knows how long they have to cross," he said.


State Rep. Bill Callegari, R-Houston, has also focused on making cameras fairer for drivers. His proposal would require cities that use red-light cameras to post warning signs before the intersections where they are used.

I have no problem with either of those proposals. I have no idea how likely either of them are to be adopted, but I'd have no objections to either of them.

One more thing, from that same article:

In El Paso, 11 intersections have 16 cameras. The city has issued more than 3,600 tickets since the cameras began operating last year, El Paso police Sgt. Jack Matthews said.

He said the cameras have been effective.

At intersections with red-light cameras, accidents during November and December of 2006 dropped significantly from the same time the previous year, he said.

Accidents caused by red-light runners decreased 80 percent, right-angle collisions fell 58 percent, and injury collisions dropped 46 percent.

Some day, perhaps we'll get this same information for Houston, too. Some day. Thanks to the Walker Report for the heads up.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on February 26, 2007 to That's our Lege | TrackBack

At the hearing on Carona's bill, btw, it was revealed that accident numbers from police only count T-bones in the intersection, not rear-end accidents because the rear of the car that's hit isn't IN the intersection. So the numbers given don't provide apples to apples comparables to any other numbers. best,

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast on February 26, 2007 6:08 PM

Quintanilla's bill is a bunch of junk. All Yellows are already required by law to comply with the Texas MUTCD. That of course doesn't mean they all do. His new bill is just some feel good *make it look like I did something* junk that is all too prevalent at the legislative level.

From Quintanilla's bill, HB 614 -

(b) At an intersection at which a photographic traffic
monitoring system is in use, the minimum change interval for a
steady yellow signal must be established in accordance with the
Texas Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices.

The TMUTCD of course simply states that yellows must be between 3 and 6 seconds. § 544.002 of the Transportation Code requires all traffic control devices comply with the manual adopted under § 544.001 which is of course the section of statute that requires the adoption of the TMUTCD.

Some cities have been very good with their traffic studies documenting the "need" for cameras. Others have simply turned the 'study' over to the vendor to perform and recommend camera locations.

I have not seen Houston's studies.

Posted by: Trafficnerd on February 26, 2007 10:14 PM