Authored by Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford), the bill would eliminate the use of traffic cameras to dish out fines and ban the use of evidence gained by way of those cameras in court.
From 2007-2010, the State of Texas brought in over $25 million in fines from red-light cameras, with the total amount of fines issued exceeding $103.5 million. If the bill were to be signed into law, Texas would become the eleventh state to prohibit red-light cameras.
Rep. Stickland stated on the House floor, “House Bill 1631 is an attempt to prohibit the unconstitutional practice of red-light cameras throughout the State of Texas.” “The reason this is important is I believe it violates due process,” he continued. Stickland then added, “Studies have shown that when it comes to public safety, evidence does not suggest that cameras decrease [the amount of] accidents.”
The Texan interviewed Chief Gene Ellis, of the Belton Police Department, for comment.
Ellis, who is the President of the Texas Police Chiefs Association (TPCA), said: “Red-light intersections are where some of the more dangerous crashes occur.” Chief Ellis — whose district has not implemented red-light cameras — then said he believes, “there is some merit to having deterrents in place that reduce crashes at red light intersections,” but that he also “understands the other side of the argument.”
In the interview, Ellis recognized opponent’s concern for “a camera making the decision to site without officer discretion” as a valid one. Ellis and the TPCA believe that decision is best made at the local level. “What works and is right for one community may not be right for another one.”
One of the most commonly-cited arguments against red-light cameras is that they act as a revenue-gathering source.
In fact, Rep. Stickland repeated this argument multiple times during the floor debate. Ellis said of this, “any type of traffic safety initiative or enforcement effort should not have revenue as its goal.” Any initiative that does have revenue as its goal is “probably not being done for the right reasons,” Ellis added.
He concluded by saying “enforcement and traffic laws should be used with the end goal of safeguarding the lives of Texans.”
Chief Ellis’ career as a police office stretches back three decades.
According to the Texas Department of Transportation, the purpose of red-light cameras is to improve safety at intersections. Cities are barred from operating red-light cameras as revenue sources.
A 2011 study by the Texas Transportation Institute analyzed crashes at newly implemented red-light camera intersections. At their analyzed intersections, crashes at one-year-old intersections dropped six percent after the red-light cameras were installed. For two-year-old intersections, that drop was 18 percent. And for three-year-old intersections, crashes dropped four percent after red-light cameras were installed.
However, a 2017 study by Justin Gallagher of Case Western Reserve University and Paul Fisher of the University of Arizona, “found no evidence that red-light cameras improve public safety.” The duo analyzed Houston traffic accident data — specifically angle (collisions from the side) and non-angle (collisions from the front or back) — from 2003-2014. It concludes by saying, “a camera program will decrease angle accidents, while increasing non-angle accidents,” which “is not an incidental or anomalous outcome.”
Last week, the Texas Supreme Court more-or-less “punted” on the challenge to the constitutionality of red-light cameras, when it threw out a majority of the case presented in Garcia v. City of Willis — ruling that the constitutional questions “are not at issue today.”
One amendment proposed by Rep. Armando Martinez (D-Weslaco) allowed current red-light camera contracts to be honored. Martinez’s amendment was amended, however, to preclude current contracts from being extended. The amendment to the amendment was offered by Rep. Briscoe Cain (R-Deer Park).
Both passed and were implemented in the final bill.
The legislation moves now to the Senate, where it must be brought up for consideration by May 22.
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Brad Johnson is an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.