By Joe Southern, Richard Lee
For the Fort Bend Star
Cities could no longer use cameras to enforce red light traffic laws under a bill proposed before the Senate Transportation Committee last week.
That is welcome news to Helwig Van Der Grinten of Sugar Land, who for years has been crusading against the photographic traffic signal enforcement systems and testified before the committee about the issue. He currently has a case before the Texas Supreme Court after he sued Sugar Land to stop its red light camera program. As founder of the Houston Coalition Against Red Light Cameras, he successfully led the charge to get the state’s largest city to stop its red light camera program.
“I finally got a red light camera ticket myself,” he said in the committee hearing chaired by Jacksonville Sen. Robert Nichols. “I violated a red light by three-tenths of a second. The only reason that happened is because I am not clairvoyant. The system is set up that requires you to make a snap decision, a snap stop-or-go decision, when a light turns from green to yellow and they don’t give you enough information to make a correct decision every time. It’s guesswork. You’ve got to be clairvoyant to consistently avoid a violation under those conditions.”
The red light cameras automatically take a picture of cars entering an intersection after the light has changed and the vehicle owner is sent a ticket. This contradicts the standard of presumption of innocence that lies at the foundation of our legal system, said Edgewood Sen. Bob Hall.
“This owner, who may not have even been in the vehicle, is presumed to be the person who committed the violation,” he said. “The innocent owner has then the burden of proof and often great expense of proving that they did not commit the alleged violation. This turns our judicial system completely and utterly upside down by requiring the accused to prove their innocence.”
Hall’s bill, SB 653, would prohibit municipalities and other local jurisdictions from using red light cameras. In addition to the violation of judicial rights, Hall doesn’t find arguments in favor of red light camera based on increased public safety compelling. The 2007 state law that allowed cities to issue citations up to $75 based on red light camera evidence also required that cities conduct traffic engineering studies at intersections before those cameras are installed. Hall said that most cities didn’t comply with this provision.
“Inasmuch as many of these systems were installed illegally without the required traffic engineering studies to determine their need, there is no reliable way to determine if these cameras actually improve safety,” he said.
Nichols added later that the Senate has passed a bill ending red light camera programs three times, but has seen these measures die in the opposite chamber.
“We’re hoping we get something back from the House this year,” he said.
With more than two-thirds of representatives signed on as co-authors to the identical House companion bill, that seems likely this session.
Following the Nov. 1 Supreme Court, hearing, Van Der Grinten made similar comments to the ones made in the senate committee hearing.
“There are two underlying issues here. The first is why punish the vehicle owner when he or she may not be the offending driver? The second was punishing the inadvertent violation of the red light law by a fraction of a second. Is this technical violation of the red light reasonable? Automated red light camera enforcement does not permit leniency. No allowance is made for the inability of humans to make a precisely correct stop-or-go decision every time a green traffic light turns yellow,” he said.