Red light camera tickets and bully tactics

A recent KTRK-TV news story investigates the Houston Police Department’s red light camera program and the delinquency letters which recently went out to scofflaws who have not paid the fine. These letters threaten a hold on the vehicle’s registration if the fine is not paid, and that is where the issue lies.

Quoting from the Web version of the story:

“That’s just a false statement,” said Harris County Judge Ed Emmett.

Harris County commissioners have refused to let the city use its tax assessor collector’s office to withhold registration renewals for delinquent red light violators. There was a unanimous vote a few months ago. Commissioners said it was based on issues, some said it was politics. HPD’s chief financial officer doesn’t understand.

Now, I’d like to make it clear I support the obedience of most traffic laws, and that specifically includes properly timed and warranted traffic signals. On the whole, disregarding (running) a red light is dangerous, both for the violator and the cross traffic at risk of a collision. Don’t do it. (Some of you may already wonder why I say “most” and not “all” and I’ll address those in a later post.)

That said, I have a huge issue with red light cameras. It would appear to me that HPD is trying to send a message to the people who whiz through at the last tenth of a second, sometimes at 10 MPH or more over the speed limit, trying to beat the change to red. However, I have observed some intersections with a camera and noticed the vast majority of presumed violators are those poking through at the tail end of a large group of vehicles–hardly the real danger to safety when one hears or reads “red light runner.” Unless you have someone who bolts out at the first sight of a green light–not a wise idea in Houston or any other large city–these drivers rarely pose a real risk to safety and are more of an annoyance. (The case could be made the driver who gives a traffic signal the race track treatment is the bigger risk to safety.)

Someone I know got a ticket for failing to come to a complete stop before a right turn on red. Originally, these types of violations were not going to be ticketed. Apparently, someone saw the dollar signs and said “Who cares if the city doesn’t get the money and it all goes to hospitals? Let’s max it out anyway.”

We already know HPD is willing to lie and usurp the FAA’s authority over airspace when it suits their best interests. It is not surprising to me at all that HPD is also willing to bully red light camera ticket recipients with an outright lie about vehicle registration.

Local traffic ticket attorney Scott Markowitz decries the misleading warning as “at best a hollow threat, at worst is fraud.” And I’m inclined to agree. Until HPD realizes red light cameras rarely if ever catch the real risks to safety and on the whole don’t work, the best we can hope for is at least some semblance of truth in the delinquency letters.

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