Speed Cameras

Texas Poised To Ban All Red Light Cameras

The oft-abused tool is used more to raise revenue than to protect public safety.

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If Texas cities want to fine drivers into the poor house, they're going to have to do it the old-fashioned way—with actual law enforcement officers. A bill to ban red light cameras has passed the Texas Legislature and is heading to Gov. Greg Abbott's desk. He's expected to sign it.

Red light cameras were allegedly introduced to reduce collisions with an automated system that sent tickets and fines to those who ran through intersections. Or, at least, that's what drivers were told.

The reality is that cities use red light cameras as a source of revenue, not for public safety. In Chicago, Illinois, a former city official was sent to prison for taking bribes from a red light camera company. Chicago raked in hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue from the camera tickets, and at one point these machines appeared to be malfunctioning and sending out hundreds of tickets inappropriately.

More recently, the state of Oregon attempted to target a man with threats of punishment for challenging the timing and duration of yellow lights, accusing him of misrepresenting himself as an engineer (he is, in fact, an engineer, but not licensed in Oregon). The state tried unsuccessfully to fine him.

Some cities and states have pinned a lot of their budget numbers on this revenue, which creates some pretty twisted incentives. The Dallas Morning News notes that Dallas drew in nearly $6 million from red-light camera fines in 2018. Half of the money goes to the city. The other half gets directed toward trauma hospitals in the state.

But there's actually very little evidence that red light cameras actually improve public safety. Study after study often says the opposite, and some communities have stopped using them without being directed to by their state governments. HB 1631 in Texas will forbid the use of red light cameras across the state, and the evidence from these cameras cannot be used for charges or citations. The bill allows municipalities to honor their contracts with private camera operators until they expire, so it may be a few years before they disappear—in Fort Worth, the city contract runs through 2026. But the bill also forbids county and state official from refusing to register a car on the basis of having unpaid red-light camera tickets.

Assuming Abbott signs the bill into law, this is great news for citizens, especially in cities that blanket their neighborhoods with cameras to eke out money.

Mind you, Texas is still a state where speed traps rule and cities and counties bring in millions in revenue from writing tickets. And those tools of petty enforcement can be used and abused to torment people when officers get angry over any challenge to their authority (See: Sandra Bland). But at least one terrible tool used to milk citizens out of their money is taking the exit ramp.

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  1. So Reason finally found a “public-private partnership” transportation program it doesn’t like. I assume you ran this by Bob Poole before publishing?

    1. reason has been against this for years. Speed cameras are about revenue, not safety.

      Studies have actually shown red light cameras increase accidents

      1. I’m against traffic cameras, but I can’t think of a way they might increase accidents.

        1. peeps slam on their brakes in fear of $75 ticket nobody pays, inherit $xxxx property damage to rear of vehicle.

        2. Because the # 1 thing that can reduce accidents at traffic light controlled intersections is longer yellow lights, but the studies show that municipalities that install red light cameras inevitably end up shortening yellow lights at monitored intersections in order to increase the revenue from the tickets.

          1. “…longer yellow lights,…”

            Or hold the red, for both directions, longer.

        3. Then you didn’t read the article and look at the studies clearly laid out that they do.

    2. You must be a newbie, Reason has never been for red light cameras. I’m sure the occasional author may be.

  2. Put a TV remote up to your phone’s camera – you’ll see a white spot where the remote’s energy has overwhelmed the camera (it’s not permanent).

    I wonder if high-intensity IR LEDs could do the same to a red light camera.

    1. Precision air rifles put a hurtin’ on red light and surveillance cameras.

    2. Someone on Youtube tried this. I don’t think they had much success. I saw this years ago, though, and IR LEDS have undoubtably become both more powerful and cheaper. It might be worthwhile to try again.

      Perhaps a heliostat would work as well, constantly moving a mirror to focus the sun and create a lens flare on any camera. Make them cheap enough and they could be disposable, making it possible to just drop one near the intersection of a camera. I don’t know, though. I think someone wrote a song about fighting the law.

    3. Thought about that years ago when this started and googled to see if anyone tried it. Some guy did on a blog. I believe he finally got it to work but the whole thing kind of fizzled out—probably didn’t want to post about illegal tests—and now these cams are being removed all over the place anyway.

  3. about time, Texas.

  4. Of all the time I’ve nearly been killed at an intersection it is almost always someone turning left. I say we make left turns illegal.

    1. I support this. Also outlawing dangerous individualized transportation in leu of Safe, Reliable Public Transit. It goes everywhere worth going ™.

    2. the fuck would happen to nascar?

    3. No, it’s natural selection at work.

  5. A more likely explanation is that some State Representative showed up running a red light while snorting plant leaf extract off a hooker’s ass–and his wife somehow got hold of the photo. These are the same tools now passing laws to stop Texans from voting Libertarian.

  6. If this catches on sell your Xerox stock they gave up copiers for traffic management systems years ago. Easier to buy influence and get government to put in your systems at a profit to both than to actually compete any longer.

  7. […] Really? Rad. Across the country different jurisdictions — not sure about Texas, but wouldn’t be surprised — have been caught shortening yellow light times to increase revenue. Which is simply murder. […]

  8. Surprised to see only $75. My hometown in Northern CA was bringing in about $400 per ticket. They initially had to refund everyone because they didn’t inform of the red light cameras. But then they put up signs and started to collect again. They finally took them down thank God. It made me so nervous that I avoided any right turn at those intersections. I heard somewhere in Southern CA they were deemed unconstitutional. My friend in Bakersfield keeps getting them, and she fights them. An officer never shows up, so she doesn’t have to pay. But that’s still time off work, etc. I also don’t know if this is just her usual driving ‘style’ or if she’s victim to it.
    In reading this article and comments about yellow lights, the mystery of having why I have to wait for 3-6 cars to pass on my green light is resolved! Even as a pedestrian I have to wait for a bunch of red light cars to pass on my ‘Walk’ sign. The ‘Walk’ sign does not stay on for all the cars to pass, so anyone not brave enough to jump out is stuck.

  9. One suggestion I have is to legally treat red lights as temporary stop signs, where you’re free to “run” them as traffic is clear. An additional benefit is one less excuse for government to steal your money.

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