Monday, July 05, 2010

Red Light Cameras Get The Green Light!

I’ve been following the debate over the red light cameras with great interest and the most recent column by The Suns new managing editor Doyle Barlow, titled Red light tickets should be up to BPD, compelled me to speak my peace.

Back a couple years ago when I stood with the Baytown Concerned Citizens at El Toro’s restaurant and asked the city to “do something about the traffic violators’ in this town”, it seemed everyone was of the same opinion – by hook or crook, stop people from violating traffic laws and in the process, catch criminals with warrants.

I’m not implying red light cameras are catching and locking up crooks, but if you do not pay the fine, you will get a warrant issued for your arrest (*see updated note below).  However, any driver with a driver’s license should have the minimum reading skills to interpret the signs and each camera has numerous signs to warn drivers there are cameras present.

Now my hat is still off to the Baytown police department for the fine job(s) they are doing, but how many officers do we have dedicated to cruising at any one time?  Not that many per capita and there is a good reason – it’s a big town with as many as 120,000 people moving around at peak hours.

It would be an impossible task to watch every busy intersection, let alone the thousands of stop signs and minor red lights, so in my opinion, the red light cameras are a plus for traffic violations.  Besides, I challenge anyone reading this to take a drive through this town and make a note every time you see a traffic violation on just one trip.  It might be a real eye-opener.

A case in point is here - yesterday, I made a trip to Food Town on North Main and pulled out of the parking lot onto Rollingbrook St.  It was about noon time and I was in the right lane and heading east towards Massey Tompkins Rd.  The left turn arrow turned green and the car to my left, which incidentally was in the middle lane, took off straight through the oncoming turning cars and kept going on east on Massey Tompkins.  I shook my head in amazement.

Directly behind it, another car took its place and just as the green left turn arrow turned yellow; it too crossed over into the intersection and took a left – from the middle lane!  Either of these demonstrations of poor judgment could have resulted in a car wreck or possible fatality and this all happened inside 20 seconds by 2 different Baytown drivers.

As to the argument that red light camera strobe lights causes more rear-end collisions, I have an observation to make about that also.  The reason the second car runs into the stopping car, is because they have every intention of flying through the light also.

We have way too many distracted people driving cars in this and every town in this country.  Loud music, cell phones, eating food, alcohol, looking out the window when they should be looking ahead and dope – yes dope all contribute to people driving without actually paying attention.

Saturday morning I drove out Garth Road to go geocaching at 6:30am and stopped at the I-10 red light to wait my turn to go.  Behind me I spied a Honda Accord with 4 young people inside.  The front passenger and the 2 back seat travelers all had their heads laid back as if very tired.  Then, to my surprise, the driver slouched down, laid his head over and closed his eyes.

I was watching all of this when one of the backseat riders noticed me watching.  He nudged his buddy and as they both looked at my reflection in the mirror, the driver fell asleep and his car came rolling up to mine.  I was right at the collision point when their yells caused him to slam on the brakes.  Needless to say, as the light turned green, I drove off as fast as the law allowed.

No, we are not in a place where we can give up the extra help red light cameras do to penalize red-light runners and right turn violators yet, if anything, we need more.

*This is inaccurate.  See comments below.


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

A correction:

If the fine for a citation issued by a red light camera is not paid, a warrant for your arrest is NOT issued. Citations from red light cameras are considered civil violations and not criminal. Granted, the civil violations are half price and do not go on your driving record as a moving violation and your insurance rates are not effected.

Anonymous said...

FYI, current legislation DOES NOT provide for issuance of a warrant for arrest of individuals who fail to pay a red light camera citation. The camera citation is a CIVIL action while an Officer initiated citation is a Criminal violation. The only penalty for not paying a red light camera citation is some counties will not allow an individual to renew the registration on a vehicle with an outstanding unpaid violation.

The legislation for red light cameras can be found in the Transportation Code, Section 707. It is a short, easily read act.

Bob and Linda said...

I agree, I do not see where it would cause an accident. I just see where it is an aid to the police force and if you are not doing anything wrong then you don't have anything to worry about, just drive correctly. If you run the stop light you pay the fine just as if an officer caught you. Yellow means clear the intersection and Red means stop..... Linda

Levi McAllister said...

I can't decided whether these red light cams are doing the job. Months ago i spoke with someone who worked for the city and apparently, the city is losing money all together due to these cameras. They're putting more money into placing these cameras and getting less money back from the fines that are actually being payed, which isn't much. If they could find a way to turn this into an actual punishment, and not just a baytown fine, then i'd be all for it.

Anonymous said...

Great article, Bert! I agree 100%. Everyone gets caught occasionally
getting a "pink" light. Sometimes, there's just not enough time to
stop, especially if you have something in the car or truck that may
not be fastened down securely. When I know an intersection has the
cameras, it makes me think to take extra caution. I think they work,
Thanks so much for your writing. You really have a gift. I hope you
and your family had a great 4th. We are so blessed to live in America! DC

Anonymous said...

Bert, i agree. mentioned that in column a few years back. JF

Byron Schirmbeck said...

Bert, good article as usual, thanks for noting that there is no arrest warranty for not paying the fine. And honestly, can we truly call an fine with an optional payment "enforcement"? Enforcement is only effective if there is a penalty for non compliance. There are several other issues you may not have considered. You are right that we do not have enough cops, that is the real solution. Right now Baytown does not have one single dedicated traffic patrol unit, not one. Despite claims that cameras expand the police force the trend appears to be in the other direction, more cameras mean less cops over time. In Arizona, the home of photo enforcement they have been laying off troopers and replacing them with cameras. How long until that happens here? Cities love cameras over cops, they don't get sick, write tickets 24/7 don't require retirement etc. IT also takes away the opportunity for one of our finest to intervene and possibly set one of the young punks on a straighter path in the future, just like an officer did for me when I was young and stupid. I am also concerned about what people have been telling me they do in response to the cameras, they tell me they avoid them by cutting through the parking lots at target, krogers, lowes etc. And we know those are dangerous enough without more cars going through there endangering pedestrians. Another man told me as soon as he sees yellow he floors it to make sure he gets through before the camera gets him creating an even deadlier situation. I would venture a guess for every person the cameras encourage to drive better there is one or more that drives worse because of them, so what is the net sum? And is it really worth all the trouble?
Let's let the voters decide in November, if they decide it is worth it I am fine with that, but my duty is to give everyone a voice on this issue. Thanks again Bert!

byron schirmbeck said...

sorry for the double post, it said I didn't put in the verification word correctly. BTW, one additional comment about the city supposedly loosing money on the cameras, that isn't even close to accurate. The city bears ZERO cost with the program, the cameras were put up for free in return for a bounty on each ticket collected. the cost of running the review side of the program comes out of the city's share of the camera revenue. Last year there was something like a half million dollars in the red light camera revenue account. The city has only profited from the cameras, never lost.

Larry said...

On the issue of effectiveness I tend to believe that the cameras have at best no effect on traffic safety once the plusses and minuses are considered. I've seen data supporting both sides, depending on who's controlling the measurement parameters.

I mostly see the program as a revenue raiser, a tax on the population that doesn't require voter approval. It's amazing to me how much compassion and concern our local government can gin up for it's citizens when a few hundred thousand dollars are at stake!

These issues aside, this big brother type infringement on citizens rights just seems wrong to me. I wonder if proponents of red light cameras would also support a transceiver in you cars computer that would automatically send you a ticket if you speed? Or a "restaurant-cam" that would send you a ticket for smoking closer than 15' from the entrance, or even a "bedroom-cam" that would fine you for tearing off the "Do Not Remove Under Penalty of Law" tags from your mattress.

Could our streets be safer? Certainly they could. That is as true after the cameras as it was before the cameras. Unfortunately, to me, too many people seem to believe that we are only one more new law away from Heaven on Earth. That with enough laws a utopian world can be legislated into existence.

byron schirmbeck said...

Well said Larry, and just to be clear, I have always said that if the cameras come down and nothing else is done to improve safety I will consider my efforts to have failed. I want the cameras out so the city won't use them over sound engineering methods of reducing accidents and violations. We all want less violations and accidents but the city left potentially a 30-50% reduction by not exploring the best methods. We proved that when we got them to raise the yellow timing at Garth and Baker. Violations dropped in half, immediately! You can see th charts for proof of that at

Anonymous said...

I thought state law required engineers to conduct a study of each intersection to determine if cameras were the best option. Why would we bring down the cameras to perform a study that has already been conducted? More importantly, why would we bring down the cameras when they are reducing collisions and saving lives? Talk to the police -- they want that cameras. According tot he ad in today's Baytown Sun, this petition would also do away with police car dashboard cameras and other forms of evidence gathering. It's a bad idea.

Byron Schirmbeck said...

Don't know if my post from yesterday showed up, but there was no engineering study ever conducted in Baytown, it doesn't exist. And no, the petition will not outlaw dashcams and other surveillance cameras. It only applies to red light cameras. The same petition passed in at least 3 other cities and they still use dashcams and surveillance cameras. In fact in all 10 cities that have voted out red light cameras and all 15 states that have banned them police still have those tools. Details are on our website

Anonymous said...

@ Larry

I don't follow on how this is a tax without voter approval. Its only a "tax" if you ran through the red light in which case you deserve to be fined anyway as its illegal.

As your big brother comments go. A "restaurant-cam", I think would be a great idea. I have smoking and I have asthma. I HATE it when people are smoking right next to a door and right next to the sign that says stay 15 feet away. Unfortunately, it might be hard to put a camera on the property considering its private, owned by the restaurant.

As for your "bedroom-cam" idea. You do understand that's completely different then a camera on a PUBLIC street. Putting a camera in someones privately owned house is a HUGE difference then a camera on a public street. At no time would I ever warrant a camera in my house watching me or anybody else. However once you step out onto a public street its fair game.
By the way its not illegal to rip the tags off your mattress as long as YOU OWN the mattress.

Whenever people say I don't agree with big brother watching me, its against my rights. What the hell are you doing that you wouldn't want anybody to see. Are you doing something illegal anyway? Personally, I could care less if they watch me at ever turn, I have nothing to hide.

I have yet to receive any ticket from a red light camera or be involved in any accident at one. I have how ever almost been hit twice from behind at a light that DIDN'T have a red light camera. So to me it doesn't matter if their there or not. All these accidents that are happening from behind its more than likely because the person behind them is following too closely or not paying attention like Bert said in his post.

I'll say what I tell everyone. If the camera saved just one life. Is it worth it?

This tariff business ain't going away

I read Steve Showalter's opinion piece in Wednesday's Sun and I posted a comment in response. If you recall he is qualified ...