By Elsa Maxey
Even though you were not driving your vehicle when it was caught on camera taking a red light, if you own it, the ticket and responsibility for paying it is yours. That’s one of the flaws that Capt. H.F. Van Der Grinten dislikes most about the red light camera operations in Sugar Land. Capt. Van, who lives in New Territory, is the founder of the Houston Coalition to Ban Red Light Cameras. He also backs non-payment of a red light camera ticket fine saying that paying it is “virtually voluntary. “ But is it?
“The city works with a collection agency for the collection of past due violations,” said Sugar Land spokesperson Doug Adolph. He also reports 87,569 violations year- to-date with an 80 percent collection rate for each at $75 a pop, a civil and not a criminal fine, he said. “This collection rate is consistent with previous years.”
Capt. Van maintains that motor vehicle registrations will not be denied due to outstanding red light cam fines. Sugar Land also does “not participate in the registration hold process,” said Adolph. But what irks Capt. Van is that “the mailed violation notices state that failure to pay may result in a hold placed on your vehicle registration,” he said, calling it a false statement. But not intentionally paying for fines is what is called scofflaw, a disregard and contempt for the law. However, “If I received an RLC (red light camera) ticket in Sugar Land and I felt that I got caught fair and square, I would feel morally obliged to pay the fine,” said Capt. Van in prepared statements.
He’s now on a campaign to collect signatures on a petition to place the red light matter on a ballot allowing Sugar Land voters the say so on operating the cameras. Neighboring Houston did away with them in a referendum approved by its voters.
Capt. Van’s other reasons for refusing to pay these fines is the assertion that red light cameras are unfair because drivers are forced to guess the time length of the yellow light. Also, if the violation was for a rolling stop for a right turn on a red light, “I would feel justified in paying a fine of only $7.50 because I have proof that this violation is only one tenth as serious as a straight through violation and the fine should reflect the seriousness of the violation.” Capt. Van said that since the city will not accept the reduced fine “I would pay nothing.” By the way, he reports that 60 percent of the citations are issued for rolling stops.
Accounts indicate that 24 states and the District of Columbia currently use red light cameras. A reported claim against their use is that “The United States Department of Transportation and the states are conspiring to make it a civil crime so they can eliminate due process.”
Of the money Sugar Land generates from operating the red light cameras, installed for public safety, it is split between the state and a special city account, states Adolph. He said it funds traffic safety programs, intersection improvements, public safety programs and traffic enforcement, including the Safe Light Sugar Land initiative.
Captain Van’s petition to place the red light camera operation as a public referendum in Sugar Land has now reached 971 of the 2,600 signatures needed. “Those signatures have been verified by the Voter Database Search as valid Sugar Land resident voters,” he said.