Self-interest should rally Houstonians around red-light cameras in November.
n an election showdown that pits public safety and health officials against traffic-court lawyers and libertarians, the Chronicle urges voters to support the city's red-light-camera system in the upcoming municipal referendum.
As Chronicle columnist Lisa Falkenberg noted in a recent column, both sides in the referendum have monetary stakes in the outcome.
The city of Houston, its police department, area trauma centers and the contractor managing the cameras receive millions of dollars in revenue generated by the red-light citations. Since the city installed the system in 2006, nearly 800,000 tickets have been issued with $43.7 million collected.
On the other hand, the financial heft and organization behind the camera opponents comes largely from traffic-court attorneys, including Paul Kubosh, who make their living helping motorists fight tickets. Kubosh claims the city's motive for installing traffic cameras is profit rather than public safety. In his case, it's a pot-calling-the-kettle-black situation.
Since camera-generated citations are based on car ownership and are more difficult to challenge in court than officer-issued traffic tickets, they bite into the lawyers' business.
The due process issue is perhaps the most potent in the opposition's arsenal. Opponents claim the system denies those ticketed the opportunity to defend themselves in court. However, the red-light-camera statute does provide for appeals to the police department, followed by municipal courts and then the county-court system. Because the citations are based on photographic evidence of a vehicle entering an intersection after a light turns red (excluding those trapped waiting to make a left-hand turn) and are reviewed by a police officer, they are hard to contest.
In some cases those who have sold vehicles have been ticketed because new owners had not changed the registration when the violation occurred. It's a good reason for sellers to make sure the buyer does so promptly.
Anyone with extensive experience driving or walking across intersections in Houston knows how pervasive and potentially dangerous red-light running is in this town. More than 800 people died in intersection crashes in Texas in 2008, and the Houston-Galveston Area Council estimates red-light running has a quarter-billion-dollar impact annually in damages and injuries incurred.
While there is a debate over whether the cameras lower the total number of accidents at the intersections where they are installed, a Rice University study found that the most serious side impacts that can lead to fatalities were reduced by 16 percent. It also found that red-light running was significantly reduced at the camera-monitored intersections.
That's backed up by researchers at the national Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, who found that urban motorists are more likely to be injured in crashes involving red-light running than other types of collisions. As in Houston, several studies conducted in Virginia, Pennsylvania and California documented substantial reductions in red-light running at intersections equipped with cameras.
We've all seen the tragic consequences of motorists violating traffic signals and maiming or killing innocent pedestrians and occupants of other vehicles. The right to privacy doesn't apply to reckless driving on public thoroughfares that endangers the community. We believe the cameras are a vital extension of our undermanned police traffic-enforcement capabilities. In this case, a picture can vastly multiply the eyes and extend the arms of the law.
Mayor Annise Parker and a majority of City Council support red-light cameras. These elected officials are joined by an impressive group of community law enforcement officials and health care leaders of the Texas Heart Institute, Harris County Hospital District, Memorial Hermann Healthcare Systems, Teaching Hospitals of Texas and the Texas Hospital Association.
The Chronicle recommends citizens follow their leadership and vote in favor of red-light cameras.
Source: Houston Chronicle