Red light cameras

By John Toth

The last red light camera in my neck of the woods is about to be history. Lake Jackson, TX. is getting rid of its red light cameras.
They are about as popular around here as a heart attack, and the city decided not to renew the operator’s contract.
For those of you unfamiliar with red light cameras, they are automated devices that collect evidence authorities need to prove that motorists ran a red light, or did not stop at the light fully before making a right turn.
If a camera catches you speeding through the intersection, you can expect a ticket (along with a photograph of the violation) to arrive in your mailbox a month or two later.
In Texas, the ticket is regarded as a civil violation that does not affect a driver’s record. But it may affect drivers’ pocketbooks to the tune of $75.
Texas cities have collected more than $103 million in fines since a revised red-light camera law took effect in 2007. Houston has collected the largest chunk: some $24 million before that city’s lights were shut down.
Red light camera lights sound like a good idea on the surface. After all, cops cannot be everywhere to enforce traffic laws. But are they?
In Rochester, N.Y., when red light cameras were installed, the city praised them as a way to make motorists and pedestrians safer. But, it is also increasing municipal revenues.
Critics argue that cameras are not put at the most dangerous intersections, but at the most profitable ones.
The cities with red light cameras do not spell out that the civil fines may not have to be paid.
Although Texas law states that the city may “red flag” the vehicle’s registration, the local authority has to agree to do so. Harris County and several other counties are not blocking the registration on vehicles for failure to pay camera tickets. This means there is no penalty for not paying.
A lot of people in Texas figured that out quickly and refused to pay. Many others have argued that the cameras are unconstitutional.
One friend went back to municipal court repeatedly, arguing that red light cameras are unconstitutional.
He also argued that he could not pay the ticket because he was not the driver.
Who drove your car, the city asked.
He could not remember. But he didn’t do the crime, and he was not about to pay the fine.
After the third or fourth hearing, Lake Jackson dropped the case.
Many others paid, though.
Many red light cameras elsewhere are also biting the dust.
New Jersey got rid of its cameras in June. In Houston, 53.2 percent of voters decided in 2010 that the cameras should be shut down. It took a while to turn them off, but they are finally off.
In cities were they are installed, traffic accidents have been reduced by as much as 50 percent. They are unpopular in part because Texans – and probably most everyone else in cities that have installed them – equate them to Big Brother watching you.
When I was driving around in Europe, I didn’t see any controversy about red light cameras. Europeans just assume that their picture will be taken ... a lot.
One of my relatives there who received one of these tickets and opened it found out that her husband was having an affair. The photo showed the other woman in the passenger seat.
Which is probably why some promotions for these cameras stress that the photos do not show the people in the car.
Which is why my friend was able to keep arguing that he was not the person driving the car in the photo. He really wasn’t.