Red light cameras are all about $afety
Chronicle partner KHOU-11 actually beat Chron.com to the web with a story by Chron reporters Matt Stiles and Alexis Grant that HPD has recommended a vendor for Mayor White's red-light-camera revenue stream:
On Monday, the Houston Police Department recommended that the City Council award a contract for the camera system to American Traffic Solutions Inc., one of four companies that bid on the project and demonstrated their systems over a month-long trial period late last year.
During the next month, HPD will draft a contract with the company to present to City Council, which must approve the contract before cameras can be installed. Council approved camera enforcement in 2004, and the plan survived several efforts in last year's Legislature to ban red-light cameras.
The new revenue stream looks to be substantial:
During the test period, 633 vehicle owners were issued warnings for running red lights at four intersections: Milam at McGowen, Milam at Jefferson, Travis at McGowen and Texas at San Jacinto.
``That's about 20 cars per day openly, blatantly, without regard for public safety, going through the red light,'' said Lt. Robert Manzo, a police spokesman.
At that rate, $75 citations at just four intersections would reap about $47,000 a month for the city. With cameras at 50 intersections, the eventual goal, one year of citations could bring in about $7.1 million.
Critics of the program say the city is pushing red light enforcement cameras to raise revenue.
But Mayor Bill White said his motive is the safety of Houstonians, not the city's coffers. ``What I think about is just the lives,'' White said. `` I don't think of it in terms of revenue.''
Kudos to the Chron reporters for covering the arguments of critics:
Critics have cited an increase in rear-end collisions, likely a result of motorists stopping suddenly to avoid tickets.
A 2005 study by the Federal Highway Administration showed that in seven communities where red light cameras were being used, right-angle crashes decreased 24 percent while rear-end crashes increased 15 percent. Right-angle crashes are usually more severe, according to the Highway Administration.
Besides the concern about rear-end collisions, some raise privacy and constitutional objections to red-light cameras.
The camera photographs the license tag, not the driver. So the citation will go to the owner of the car and not necessarily to the person who was driving the car when the incident occurred.
A vehicle owner caught by camera faces a $75 civil penalty while one who commits the same violation but is caught by police receives a Class C misdemeanor criminal citation that carries a maximum $200 fine.
The American Civil Liberties Union believes that violates the U.S. Constitution's Equal Protection Clause.
Scott Henson, director of the group's Texas Police Accountability Project, said: ``If I run a red light and get a civil fine, and you run a red light and get a criminal charge, we are not getting equal protection under the law.''
The issue has not been litigated in Texas, Henson said.
Those aren't as important to Mayor White as
the potential revenue safety.