Houston Votes To Turn Off Red Light Cameras; City Officials Trying To Figure Out How To Cancel Contract

from the redlight-cameras-get-the-red-light dept

btr1701 alerts us to the news that Houston residents have voted to get rid of red light cameras around Houston. The vote was actually pretty close, with 52.82% wanting to ditch the cameras, and 47.18% wanting to keep them. Of course, the cameras might not disappear all that quickly. It turns out that the city — which has made $44 million from the cameras — has a contract with the camera provider that runs for another four years. There is a 120-day cancellation policy, so the absolute soonest that the cameras might turn off is four months or so in the future. However, the city is currently reviewing its “options.” And, of course, any citation sent out while this is going on is still a valid citation, so Houston drivers shouldn’t run around thinking that the cameras are already off.

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Comments on “Houston Votes To Turn Off Red Light Cameras; City Officials Trying To Figure Out How To Cancel Contract”

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Jared (profile) says:

It’s a shame the red light cameras are used as a revenue center and not for actual traffic safety. If they were cheaper and only ticketed (and it should be a severe fine) when the light had turned green for opposing traffic and someone still runs a red I think that’d be great. Instead you get greedy gov involved, trying to turn a profit, shortening yellows, etc.

Brent says:

Thank Goodness

As a Houston resident who voted NO on Prop 3 (and one ticketed by the system), its good to see the people affected by this [illegal system] stand up. Its interesting to see the business side of this interact with the political side. A legal contract between business entities is now holding up the result of a public vote to discontinue the use of the system. Seems like the city should not validate citations issued if the camera have been voted to be disabled?

Its also interesting to note how the city reacted to the proposition – which was added to the ballot via a petition signed by thousands of people. The hospital systems were involved, attesting to the lives saved by the system. Sadly, the lives saved by such a system is outweighed by the true driving force, the revenue.

After the vote was finalized, the reation from the city was focused on the impact of the financial loss. “We are going to have to fire or furlow city employees” was the message, not “We are going to have to accept an increase of xx% in fatal collisions”. Where did the safety argument go?

Ryan Diederich says:

Re: Thank Goodness

I cant stand how politicians always say they would have to “cut” something.

This was revenue that they didnt have recently. Did they really hire more people with the money they made from these cameras? Really?

This reminds me of the comedian who made the joke about a man who sells rape whistles. In the beginning, he does it to help prevent rape, but now that he is in business, he realizes that if rape goes away, he wont have a business.

I wonder if the town gets mad at its residents if they violate laws less. “Get out there and speed!!! We need that money!”


Wretched cameras

People sometimes think these cameras are catching lunatics that drive right through an intersection on a red light. Have you ever seen anybody do that? These tickets are written for drivers than hit a yellow light a couple milliseconds too late. Or for drivers that turn right on red without coming to a complete absolute stop. And sometimes for drivers that stop correctly for the red light but are a few inches over that white line on the road. Not exactly deadly menaces, eh? A cash strapped Ohio suburb I used to live in also voted the cameras out last week. Their favorite trick was to park their robo-truck on a steep downhill grade of a four lane divided highway that had been posted at 35 mph. Not a business, school, or even a sidewalk for a mile each way. Even then, they had to refund tickets they issued for drivers who didn’t exceed the promised “safe error” of 10 mph over the limit. The real irony was that for every dollar taken from the residents, only 40 cents remained in the city for debt reduction. The balance went to Arizona.

Anonymous Coward says:

Wonder if it'll happen... and whether thay'll count properly if it does.

It’ll be interesting to see if it actually occurs or if the City uses for example the contract to run out the clock until a regime change when they can “re-review” the policy, i.e. “decide teo keep the cash-cow”.

I think we in the UK probably have a much higher density of “enforcement” cameras than the US, and the rollout is allegedly for “public safety” but the statistics are usually dodgy. E.g. I think the standard is something like 3 accidents on a stretch of road or junction in a year merits a camera. Except that when you look “3 accidents” includes some nutter throwing himself in the road deliberately, or a dog being run over that caused a pileup – nothign to do with speed or jumping lights. Then the next year after the camera goes up there happens to be only 1 accident there (small number statistics after all being meaningless on the whole), they claim a 66% reduction in accidents due to the camera, usualy in a report released strangely enough by the contractor responsible for the cameras. Yeah right!

Even more than when/whether it happens, if it does it’s to be hoped they monitor closely to see the effect of it on accidents. There was an experiment done in Swindon in the UK to turn off speed cameras to see if they really made a difference. I’d forgotten about it but this reminded me. Anecdotal evidence suggests the experiment that seems to have been done in good faith confirmed the theory that cameras did little for road safety.
On the other hand Oxfordshire (county nearby to the town of Swindon), who also switched theirs off are switching them back on it seems, though the reasons seem nebulous so it’s not clear if they had a definitive objective in mind.

I’d be interested if someone has a fuller report of any of these experiments and US data would be interesting too if it’s been tried before.

My own opinion is that these devices are much more firmly aimed at revenue generation than road safety and that if road safety were the issue, the same budget spent on these devices would have a far grater effect if spent on driver traning.

The UK driving test certainly tests little beyond basic mechanical control of the vehicle and basic theory, and as far as I know the US test is similar or perhaps worse. Training for situational awareness, reactions to emergency situations, skid control training, judging speed/distance/convergance times and similar things would seem to me a far better use of cash than putting up another device that purports to fix the syptoms rather than address the problem.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Wonder if it'll happen... and whether thay'll count properly if it does.

> if the City uses for example the contract to run
> out the clock until a regime change when they
> can “re-review” the policy, i.e. “decide teo
> keep the cash-cow”.

Doesn’t matter which regime is in office. The city can’t just decide to ignore the results of an election in which the people voted to get rid of the cameras.

The results of that process are binding on the government.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Wonder if it'll happen... and whether thay'll count properly if it does.

Doesn’t matter which regime is in office. The city can’t just decide to ignore the results of an election in which the people voted to get rid of the cameras.

You clearly haven’t lived in ma.us, where a ballot question to NOT enact a seat belt law a decade ago was summarily ignored by the state legislature as they pushed through a mandatory seat belt law anyway.

romeosidvicious (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Wonder if it'll happen... and whether thay'll count properly if it does.

There is a difference. The ballot question to which you refer merely stated the will of the people which the legislature is free to ignore. They did not pass a law stating no laws requiring seat belts could be passed. They spoke their wishes and had them ignored. The vote in question here invalidates an existing law which is a completely different scenario. From the point the vote was certified the law no longer existed from legal standpoint. They could, in theory, pass a law to allow the cameras with different language but they cannot continue to operate under the existing law.

out_of_the_blue says:

The citations were *never* valid. Ignore them.

First, traffic infractions are not a crime. (Leaving aside that these can’t be actually witnessed, are merely electronic hearsay.) The gov’t pretends that they are, and individual thugs are prepared to shoot and jail if you don’t help them pretend, but it’s all color of law, “administration” by implied threats and fraud.

2nd, I read that 10% of Texans already have outstanding warrants. I doubt that these will be obeyed.

3rd, all legitimacy is now gone. No prosecutor should even consider bringing a case to court, nor should a judge allow it to continue, when the people have spoken.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re: The citations were *never* valid. Ignore them.

> Um… how are traffic infractions not crimes?

They’re not crimes by being administrative violations. Most states decriminalized the routine offenses in their traffic codes years ago just so they could do things like take advantage of automated cameras.

If running a red light is criminal offense, the Constitution requires the state to prove the *person accused* committed the offense beyond a reasonable doubt. That means they have to have clear evidence that person was behind the wheel of the vehicle when the offense occurred.

If it’s an administrative violation, the state can hold the registered owner of the vehicle responsible for it regardless of who is driving.

In doing this, the state has to give up some of its power, but it also gains a lot of flexibility and opportunity to raise revenue. They can’t, for example, issue a warrant for your arrest for failure to pay an administrative violation. They could when it was a criminal offense. Now the most they can do is report you to a collection agency and the credit bureaus like anyone would do with a bad debt. And they can place a hold on renewing your registration. But they can’t come arrest you or put points on your license for these violations.

romeosidvicious (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: The citations were *never* valid. Ignore them.

You will find that in Houston citations issued by traffic cameras are covered under separate law than citations issued by officers and citations issued by officers are still, and likely always will be, criminal offences. If you miss a court date for speeding a warrant will be issued for your arrest and you will eventually be taken to jail (we don’t have speed cameras here in Houston) but if you miss a court date for a traffic camera the worst that happens is the judgement is placed on your credit report.

So your assumption is incorrect. In Houston, at the very least, the civil code covers traffic cameras and makes it a civil offense but they kept tickets issued by actual officers of the law completely separate and those are still criminal offenses. I suspect, without any evidence at all, that most municipalities have done the exact same thing are your above interpretation is completely incorrect.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re: The citations were *never* valid. Ignore them.

> I understand they’re not major crimes, but violating
> the law is called crime.

Unless it’s part of the penal code, it’s not a crime.

For example, where I live, it’s prohibited to build on or renovate your home without a permit. If I built a patio in my back yard without a permit, that’s hardly a crime. I can’t be arrested and charged under the penal code for it. I’d just be required to pay a civil fee for violating an administrative requirement.

TheStupidOne says:


If a city passes a proposition it becomes law. If a contract contradicts a law, the law takes precedence.

I don’t see what options Houston has. They HAVE to stop sending out tickets. Now dealing with the red light camera company may be difficult, but they would just have to go into contract arbitration and probably pay the camera company to go away.

Of course depending on how the contract is written, the city might just be able to stop sending out the tickets, and since they would no longer be collecting revenue the % they give to the company remains the same (60% of 0 is 0) … so no contract problem?

Cotten (profile) says:

I know, but....

I voted, for better or worse, to keep the cameras.

I’m of two minds on this- Earlier, I received a ticket for not stopping fully before turning right at Richmond and Dunvale. I watched the video and found they were right. As indignant as I was, I did run the damned light, and did deserve the ticket. Now, I go out of my way now to not do this anymore, primarily at intersections that I know have cameras installed. So is it reasonable to say that these lousy things increase safety? Maybe. I haven’t looked at the data yet beyond my own experience.

On the other hand, when the only concern voiced by city officials after the vote was a lament over lost revenue, I initially said piss on’m- I’m glad the vote went the way it did. This was, however, the only response published in the Chronicle. As (Ahem) reliable, neutral and comprehensive as our media is known to be, might they have only included that one remark (of several) in the story? I don’t know. There may have been another, more public-safety focused statement that didn’t make it.

So, assuming there is no abuse occurring (short yellows, etc)… Do you quit the whole thing because someone’s making money from it? There are nuances to this issue that go beyond those raised by the pissed-off ambulance chaser that started this after getting his own ticket.

romeosidvicious (profile) says:

Re: I know, but....

The problem here is the will of the voters. Enough people signed the petition and the people voted. They have to throw the whole thing out regardless of revenue or safety issues. You have to remember this is civil code not criminal code so it is different in execution and practice. The worst they could do is put it on your credit record if you didn’t pay. In fact the Houston law required them to tell you that you couldn’t be thrown in jail, couldn’t lose your license, and a lot of other stuff they couldn’t do to you if you didn’t pay and as far as I know they never actually sent out the correct notices to begin with.

It doesn’t matter if someone was making money or not the fact is the voters struck down the law and at this point the city is operating the cameras without a law to back them up. I know they want the revenue and I can appreciate that (have recently driven on Westhiemer they certainly need if) but the fact is that the law the cameras operated under is now null and void. They should shut off the cameras or at least cease issuing citations. To continue issuing citations is most likely illegal and there is already a class action in the works to get it stopped. I expect the class action will succeed pretty quickly and before the 120 days notice requirement is fulfilled. The city should have never signed a contract that did not include a provision for the voters to strike down the law. That provision is not the concern of those being issued citations now that the law has been struck down but rather for the city lawyers. Any ticket issued after the vote was certified needs to be declared null and void.

Anonymous Coward says:

Yea its definitively good to see people voting these illegal taxes out of their city, i wish we could but i live here in iowa and our supreme court ruled them to be perfectly legal, it annoyed me when 3 of our justices got voted out the other day for calling a ban on gay marriage unconstitutional but since these guys legalized red light cameras to try to appease republicans pissed at them feels like they got what was coming to them. For anyone interested theres a website that chronicles the use of these cameras across the US, their acsertation is that these cameras actually cause more accidents as people slam on their breaks afraid of a ticket…http://www.motorists.org/red-light-cameras/…if cities want more revenue they should have the balls to raise taxes not add fines.

romeosidvicious (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The timing is regulated by law and Houston has not been found to be in violation of that law however other municipalities have been found to be in violation. The specter of shortened yellow lights always looms in any city with these automated cameras. This is proved by what the city officials are currently bemoaning. They have not once said anything about safety decreasing but are ringing their hands about the revenue. So Houston didn’t have an argument concerning the illegal shortening of yellows but it has happened. The voters spoke and red light cameras are no longer legal in Houston, Texas whether for better or worse. The government now has to abide by the voters’ will.

Margie (profile) says:

It’s a shame that the cameras were voted down. I have witnessed on more than one occasion, people speeding through red lights just so they don’t have to stop. It’s terrifying. And the argument that we should get rid of the cameras simply because they generate revenue for the city – who cares? I’d prefer those who break the law pay the price as opposed to me paying higher taxes to cover the revenue that will be lost once the city removes the cameras.

branden884 (profile) says:

Red-Light Cameras in Houston

Traffic safety laws should be decided by the elected officials not by a popularity contest. If you put to a vote that the speed limit should be increased to 50 miles per hour throughout the city, it would probably pass. Imagine what a mess it would be if every time the U.S. Congress passed a law it would have to be voted on in a national election. With nearly 1,000 deaths and 150,000 injuries nationally each year as the result of red light running, enforcement methods, even though unpopular, may be necessary.

Henry (profile) says:

Why do politicians OK the cameras?

Aside from dreams of revenue, why do politicians OK the cameras?

1. They think we like the cameras!
Last month a blog exposed Astroturf Lobbying in the red light cam Industry. (To read it, Google Rynski and Astroturf.) Astroturf Lobbying is when a PR firm manufactures a fake grassroots movement via comments posted on news articles like this one. The politicians read newspapers and the web, just like anyone else. They see the pro-camera comments, assume they represent genuine public support, and so they vote to install cameras.

2. Politicians – and their extended family – are immune to the tickets.
In California 1.5 million privately-owned cars have plate numbers protected from easy look up, effectively invisible to agencies trying to process red light camera violations. Such “protected plate” lists exist in other states, too. (In CA the list includes local politicians, bureaucrats, retired cops, other govt. employees, and their families and ADULT children! Unbelievable? Read Cal. Veh. Code 1808.4.) Someone should check to see who and how many are ‘protected,’ in each state.

nebelhund (profile) says:

idiots that don't know how techdirt works...

Wow Robert, Jordan, Gloria, and Wilson.

Because of paid shills like you, a handy little tool was put in place to identify when multiple anonymous cowards were posting from the same location. See that pretty little purple box next to EACH of your posts?

What red light camera company do you work for? Do you think we are so idiotic enough to think you are actually 4 concerned citizens?

J says:

Re: cameras

It is not that criminals are the ones hurt by it. What was happening that was causing a problem is very simple; and for some reason people are not paying attention to this. The redlight cameras were primarily ticketing people who were making right turns. According to the rules of the road booklet you legally can make a right turn on a red light, however the camera would issue a citation for this offense. But that aside the primary reason for voting them down is the number of accidents. People who were making otherwise legal maneuvers in their vehicles were put in position that they would have to stop short to avoid the camera (although the right turn they were going to make was legal) causing the vehicles behind them to rear end them. The number of rear end collisions (especially in a turning lane) had multiplied no by 2 or 3 but by hundreds (multiplied by hundreds of times). So the accidents that the cameras were meaning to prevent caused MANY other kinds of accidents.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

The voters did vote on a law and not law enforcement. Red light cameras have nothing to do with the criminal law involving running red lights and only issue a civil penalty. The voters struck down the las allowing the use of red light cameras which included the civil penalty for running red lights. The law is gone. You show a marked ignorance on what this was about.

Sick of the cameras says:

The fact is that many people received tickets from these cameras for actions that were not illegal or could have not otherwise been prevented. I have a friend whose husband got one because he turned right on red. I myself got one because I was behind an 18 wheeler turning left under a freeway. The truck couldn’t make the turn, and I was stuck behind him in the intersection from green to yellow to red. The truck was clearly visible in the picture. There was no where for me to go with the truck in front of me and other people behind me. That is not acceptable. My guess is, that the “criminals” who you say voted against keeping the cameras are the people who received unfair tickets. If the cameras had worked (take pictures after opposing light turns green, no right on red tickets, etc.) and so many crap tickets weren’t mailed out…then maybe the voters would have kept them. But when, good, law-abiding and tax paying citizens get them it seems like it is more of a ploy by the city to take our money. Go after the drunk drivers who have countless convictions and are still on the street because of jail over crowding before you mail tickets to people. They mailed me a picture of myself “running” a red light. I should have mailed them a picture of myself writing them a check.

b.o.l.o.g.n.a - my ticket says:

res light camera

I voted against PROP 3; just another ploy to take money our of hard working citizens’ pockets. I am nowhere near being a criminal. I received one of these tickets in the mail for turning right on red as the light went from yellow to red, mind you I was already over the line, another car was on my bumper so backing up was not an option. The citation says I RAN the light. Tom foolery I tell you, sheer bull.

b.o.l.o.g.n.a - my ticket says:

res light camera

I voted against PROP 3; just another ploy to take money our of hard working citizens’ pockets. I am nowhere near being a criminal. I received one of these tickets in the mail for turning right on red as the light went from yellow to red, mind you I was already over the line, another car was on my bumper so backing up was not an option. The citation says I RAN the light. Tom foolery I tell you, sheer bull.

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