(AUSTIN, TX)-- The House Urban Affairs committee voted on Tuesday to send HB 259 by Representative Gary Elkins to be heard before the full House of Representatives. HB 259 would prevent Texas cities from using cameras at intersections to ticket drivers who run red lights.
"I am pleased that the Urban Affairs committee acted quickly to address the issue of red light cameras and look forward to making my case to my House colleagues that red light cameras are not an effective tool to improve public safety," Rep. Elkins said. "No one wants to give immunity to those who break the law, but red light cameras are not the best way to make our streets safer."
Rep. Elkins made his case to the Urban Affairs committee that red light cameras will lead to an inconsistent application of state law.
"You can run a red light at an intersection with a camera and receive a civil citation but if you run a red light a few blocks up the road and get caught by a police officer you will be served a criminal citation," Rep. Elkins said. "We need uniformity in enforcement of laws passed by the Texas legislature, and the legislature has always taken a hard stance against red light runners by handing them criminal citations."
Because studies on the effectiveness of red light cameras has shown an increase in rear end accidents due to drivers slamming on their brakes unnecessarily at the sight of a sign notifying drivers of red light cameras, Rep. Elkins called in to question whether red light cameras would improve safety at all.
"We don't need a solution that trades one type of accident for another," Rep. Elkins said. "Research shows that at some intersections with red light cameras, injury accidents have actually gone up by 24 percent. And unlike an actual police presence, red light cameras will do nothing to take drunk or reckless drivers off the road."
Citing the millions of dollars other large cities comparable to Houston have made off red light cameras, Rep. Elkins expressed his concern to the committee that photographic law enforcement has more to do with making money than improving public safety.
"We all know that whenever they say it's not about the money, it's almost always about the money," Rep. Elkins said. "The millions of dollars these cameras generate for the cities that use them should be proof enough that photo enforcement is not stopping red light runners."
Rep. Elkins proposed alternative solutions to making intersections safer, including lengthening the duration of the yellow light sequence at dangerous intersections by 1.5 seconds. Research from the Texas Transportation Institute revealed that an increase of 0.5 to 1.5 seconds in yellow duration will decrease the frequency of red-light-running by at least 50 percent. The research concludes that while drivers do adapt to the increase in yellow duration, this adaptation does not undo the benefit of an increase in yellow duration
Additionally, the Virginia Department of Transportation increased the yellow time on the traffic lights at an intersection that was still unsafe after installing red light cameras. This increase in yellow time from 4.00 seconds to 5.50 seconds resulted in a 94 percent drop in citations, less than one per day, at this red light camera enforced location. (For more information on extended yellow light sequence research, please visit http://www.motorists.org/issues/enforce/index.html)
"The bottom line is other engineering options exist that would improve safety without creating a new revenue stream for cities that is ripe for manipulation," Rep. Elkins said. "Cities like San Diego have been shown to have manipulated the light sequences at intersections monitored by red light cameras in order to increase the amount of citations issued by the cameras and therefore increasing the amount of money flowing in to city hall.
"Let's take a comprehensive look at all the options before we institute a system that has caused widespread inconvenience for drivers in other cities who receive tickets for a car they don't own or for a car they weren't driving at the time of the infraction. Hard working folks don't have time to take half a day off work to prove their innocence to a camera."
Because running a red light is a criminal offense, cities in the past have been unable to use red light cameras because criminal offense tickets must be personally served to the offender.
However, an amendment to the Transportation Code last session allowed cities to consider red light tickets a civil offense, an option that allows municipalities to mail the ticket. This change opened the door for cities to use red light cameras, which automatically send tickets in the mail to the vehicle's owner. HB 259 would repeal the language that allows red light tickets to be considered a civil offense.
Rep. Gary Elkins has been representing part of Harris County including Jersey Village since 1995. He is vice chairman of the House Business and Industry committee and also serves on Calendars and Local Government Ways and Means committees.
Debra Clonts, Chief of Staff
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