Our view: Fate of red-light cameras all but sealed
The bell finally tolled on red-light cameras, and no one in dozens of affected cities across the state seemed to shed a tear. The cameras went on the endangered species list a few week ago when the Supreme Court declined to consider their constitutionality.
The House then all but sealed their fate with final approval on a bill that would outlaw the much-despised devices by a vote of 109-34. House Bill 1631 now moves to the Senate, which will have final say-so over the fate of the automated cameras that recorded traffic violations at specific intersections. The result usually would be motorists receiving $75 tickets in the mail.
Whether this bill eventually winds up on the desk of red-light camera opponent Gov. Greg Abbott may not matter as there is one other case moving through the judicial system that looks to block cities from using the devices, which many believe violate the Constitution’s guarantee of due process for the accused.
“We do not have the right to face our accuser, and I believe that studies have shown that when it comes to safety, the evidence does not suggest that cameras do not decrease accidents,” Rep. Jonathan Strickland (R-Bedford) said in our story.”
Critics of red-light cameras say they cause drivers to slam on their brakes to avoid a ticket, which leads to rear-end collisions while proponents, including Rep. Celia Israel (D-Austin) counter by saying the cameras have been shown to reduce the number of so-called T-bone or right-angle collisions from vehicles running a red light. They also say 24-hour surveillance of intersections provided by the cameras allows patrol officers to focus on other important duties.
“We have a technological tool at our disposal to help save Texas lives,” Israel told House members as reported in our story. “Since Nov. 7, 2000, over 60,000 Texans have lost their lives on our roadways. ... We are trying to avert the most serious, deadly types of accidents.”
The cameras are not only a source of controversy, but also of revenue. As our story pointed out, red-light cameras across the state generate nearly $40 million a year in fines (per an analysis from the Legislative Budget Board). Half of that money goes to the state to help fund hospital trauma center while the other half remains with the city and is used for traffic safety and public safety programs.
One amendment to HB 1631 would allow cities to continue operating red-light cameras until their current contracts with camera operators expires, according to our story, while automatic renewal language in contracts would not be enforceable.
“Once over, they cannot renew their contracts, and we are done with red-light cameras,” Rep. Mando Martinez (D-Weslaco) said in our story.
While there is a strong argument to be made for safety, there is a constitutional principle in play as well. For many, the red-light cameras have a “Big Brother” feel to them, meaning someone is watching, and while that’s a reality in today’s world, motorists should have the right to face their accuser and explain their actions. Cameras have been known to malfunction, and there have been documented cases of extenuating circumstances when going through a red light was the better of two bad options.
It appears, though, that Texans will soon no longer have to worry about seeing the words “Photo Enforced” as they approach a surveilled intersection, and for many that will be cause for celebration.
Source: Waxahachie Daily Light