Wait until you hear the reason why
By Elsa Maxey
Founder of a local area organization against red light cameras, H. F. Van Der Grinten, also known as Captain Van, said it took eight months “to snip Sugar Land’s red tape and to gain access to the town’s red light camera ticket records.” He said it was because a Texas Attorney General’s ruling obligated the city to provide them, and he didn’t know about it until he followed-up because Sugar Land neglected to tell him about the ruling in his favor.
What he found out is that Sugar Land now only operates six of the eight red light cameras. Two of them have been disabled–at the intersection of U.S. 59 and SH 6 and at Lexington and SH 6, confirms the city’s Assistant City Manager Steve Griffith.
Capt Van said Mayor James Thompson told him that the shut-down is due to significant improvement in driver behavior at the intersections. He said the mayor “pledged to continue his effort to shut the cameras down on a case-by-case basis as the violations show a significant decrease.” Capt. Van recently met with the mayor and Griffith, and he said Mayor Thompson favors increasing the yellow light periods at the other red light camera locations to reduce violations.
Since he was out of town, Mayor Thompson could not be reached for comment.
Captain Van said that after a red light camera records review for one week in Sept. 2010, it “explains why Sugar Land’s traffic light camera enforcement people were extremely reluctant to let me see the data.” He counted right on red rolling stops, straight-through red light and left turn violations.
Here’s what he found:
Eighty percent or a total of 99 straight through and left turn violations occurred less than one second after the light turned red. Capt. Van says this is a result of a bad guess of when the yellow light, they are not all timed the same, was to turn red. Of a 124 violation total, two are for more than 18 seconds into the red and are deserving of punishment. Capt. Van supports a fine of more than “a $75 slap on the wrist,” which is the standard red light fine. On the other hand, he wonders why violations of less than one second are charged the same as those for a blatant disregard of the law.
During the one week record review, Capt. Van found 309 red light camera tickets issued–185 rolling stop violations plus the 99 for less than one second into the red violations representing 91.9 percent of the $75 fines. He calls them inconsequential violations.
Capt Van is convinced that, unlike what proponents say, the cameras do not reduce accidents because he said there is no proof. He would like to see them all shut down, and says that what is clear to him is that “red light cameras are (a) cash cow for the locality and the contractors who install the cameras at no charge to the town.”
From the city’s perspective, Griffith says red light cameras are a tool used for enforcement akin to someone speeding that is cited and changes his driving behavior. He said the city will continue to track the number of violations and when it sees them significantly reduced, the tool will be pulled out. In the meantime, Sugar Land will continue the use of the red light cameras and will continue monitoring the data, said Griffith.
In Sugar Land, “Last fiscal year, the camera system generated $290,000,” said city spokesperson Doug Adolph. He also said the revenue from red light penalties is split between the state and a special city account to fund traffic safety programs, intersection improvements, public safety programs and traffic enforcement, including the Safe Light Sugar Land initiative.
Capt. Van continues to maintain that the fines “constitute little more than taxation by the method of random selection.”