Red light cameras across Texas could be operating illegally

AUSTIN, Texas (KXAN) - There are nine intersections in Austin, armed with a red light camera. You might not notice them, but roll through a red light or roll past that white stop bar painted on the ground and you’re likely to end up with a $75 ticket in the mail.

Austin is one of 60 cities across Texas to have installed red light cameras. Several of those cities have gotten rid of their cameras; mostly because when voters have a say, they vote the cameras out of town.

But, a KXAN Investigation of how these cities installed the cameras shows most all are not in compliance with state law—the law that gave cities the right to charge a civil fine for running a red light.

Before Sept. 1, 2007, there were no rules on how much Texas cities could charge for running a red light. There were no rules on how cities could contract with camera companies with respect to keeping cameras from being used to fill quotas and be turned into money makers for cities.

With the passage of Senate Bill 1119 in 2007, that all changed. The new law gave cities the right to charge drivers civil fines for red light running instead of the criminal penalty. The law became part of Texas Transportation Code, Section 707.003.

The law had one major requirement before a city could install a red light camera: perform a traffic engineering study. Those studies required cities to look for other adjustments that could be made to an intersection to reduce crashes before installing a red light camera—or to help reduce the chances of people running a red light.

In order to find out which cities complied with the law, KXAN filed public records requests with every city that we could find records of ever using a red light camera. KXAN received records from 50 cities. Our analysis of those records shows only three cities appear to have conducted a traffic engineering study that was signed and sealed by a licensed Texas engineer: Abilene, College Station and Southlake.

“We found—more than once, on multiple, multiple occasions…there’s a lot of cities that just didn’t comply with this traffic engineering study requirement—at all,” Russell Bowman told KXAN. Bowman is an attorney in Irving and got a red light ticket in Richardson, Texas in November of 2012. Bowman said he wasn’t driving the car at the time, but someone in his family was. Bowman still got the ticket and would have to prove it wasn’t him running the red light.

Bowman chose to fight the $75 ticket. It was nothing more than a fight on principal, Bowman said.

“They ticketed the wrong guy this time,” Bowman told KXAN investigator Jody Barr.

Bowman filed records requests with Richardson’s city hall. The lack of response, he said, caused him to sue the city.

Knowing the state required cities to perform a traffic engineering study for each red light camera as of Sept. 1, 2007, Bowman wanted to see if Richardson ever performed the study. Richardson officials, Bowman said, never answered his request to see their study.

"I know why they didn’t respond to my letter because they never did those things,” Bowman said. “When I’m looking at the statute, it provides that if the traffic engineering study is not done, they can’t impose a red light camera penalty—they just can’t—the statute prohibits it."

 

Article from KXAN.com


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