The Dallas City Council voted to renew the city’s contract for red light cameras last week just after the Texas Senate voted to eliminate them. At least 40 cameras, a lot less than the 66 first authorized when the program began 10 years ago, will be in place at dangerous intersections.
Although some Dallas residents objected for various reasons, council members pointed to a 47 percent decrease in car accidents at the camera-enforced intersections to back their decision.
These cameras have been controversial since they made their appearance in Texas a decade ago. Some towns have gone so far as to pass referendums, including in Arlington where residents voted to remove them.
Two years ago the Texas House passed a bill to end red light cameras but it died in the Senate. So the practice of ticketing people through the mail continues across the state.
A new bill has been filed in the Texas Senate to ban red light cameras across the state, excepting on toll roads. Another bill filed would prevent counties from refusing registration of a vehicle based upon too many red light tickets, which is the policy in Dallas. The Senate bill now moves to the House for approval.
Red light cameras have plenty of supporters. I’m one of them. As an injury lawyer who has seen hundreds of automobile crashes over my career, the evidence points to their effectiveness in reducing them.
Not convinced? Officials installed 58 cameras at 44 of the most dangerous intersections in Fort Worth. Crashes at these locations have fallen by an incredible 58 percent since 2008 when the program began.
Other local cities have found similar results: Frisco’s crashes fell by 51 percent, Plano reported a 50 percent drop, and Dallas claimed a 47 percent decrease. It’s obvious these cameras prevent car wrecks.
The Texas Transportation Code section that authorizes the cameras has procedural safeguards. But some people argue that innocent drivers are wrongfully accused. Of course we don’t want an innocent driver to be ticketed for something he didn’t do. Perhaps tightening up the statute and adding better equipment, maintenance, and internal checks will solve the occasional problems.
Other opponents claim the cameras invade privacy. What’s the difference whether a patrol officer or a camera catches a red light runner? Human error happens frequently in the identification process in court. Further the positioning of the cameras on top is an angle an officer at ground level would have trouble replicating. And that doesn’t factor in the costs of police officers sitting there on the side of the road and later testifying in court.
Still others use studies that show an increase in accidents at photo-enforced intersections. A driver is warned in advance that a camera awaits. It’s true that some drivers are more likely to slam on their brakes at intersections with cameras. But that’s usually because the drivers behind are tail-gating, trying to blow through the intersection, and should slow down too.
The number of accidents prevented outweighs the number blamed on the cameras. If it takes the threat of a $75 ticket — not the reality of thousands of dollars of medical bills and lost wages, that’s fine with me. Public safety should be our number one priority.
Some supporters in Fort Worth also pointed to the $8.9 million dollars in revenue the cameras generated last year. Wow, that’s a lot of people running red lights and willing to get into wrecks, right?
But I’m more impressed with the potential for lives saved and injuries avoided. As the Visa commercial says, that’s priceless.