Say Cheese

Dallas City Council greenlights dubious red-light camera program

Dallas City Council greenlights dubious red-light camera program

red light camera, photo enforced sign, traffic
Get ready to say cheese.  RoadSafetyInk.com

As other cities nationwide hit the brakes on red-light cameras, Dallas hit the gas pedal, approving a plan that could be around for the next decade.

Despite rancor online from residents who oppose the program, a new $17.8 million contract was approved by the Dallas City Council on April 12, in a 9-6 vote.

Supporters say that red-light cameras are worthwhile because they can save lives by decreasing crashes at busy intersections and upholding the law. But outrage over the devices goes beyond angry drivers who receive a $75 fine. They view it as a cash cow for the city and maintain that the data on saving lives is inconsistent. There is also evidence that red light cameras increase rear-end crashes.

When the program was approved by the council — all of whom are up for election May 8, except for the mayor — the lack of debate was astounding given the resident outcry to end the program, which still continues on social media.

The Dallas contract slides under the wire, seeing as how the Texas Senate has approved a bill that would outlaw the measure; it still needs to be approved by the House. Any contract that's enacted prior to June 1 would be grandfathered in. Donzell Gipson, assistant director of the Dallas Police Department, said he anticipates having the contract signed in the next few weeks.

Before the measure was approved, city staff presented data saying that Dallas red-light camera program statistics show a 47 percent average reduction in red-light related accidents at intersections with a camera.

Council member Philip Kingston questioned how the city of Dallas seems to be an anomaly when it comes to red-light cameras. "Every peer-reviewed study that has looked at red-light cameras has found they have either done zero or a negative public safety impact," he said.

Research, which has been disputed, shows red-light cameras can reduce broadside crashes, but the same data also shows these cameras increase rear-end collisions. Fair trade-off? Dallas thinks so and council members agreed.

"We believe this program saves people’s lives," Gipson said. "If it saves one or two lives, and that is a member of your family, then the whole program is worth it. That’s what’s most important."

The new plan calls for 40 cameras, a reduction from a peak of 66 cameras, since some intersections have become safer since the program's inception, Gipson said.

Overall use of red-light cameras has been on the decline nationwide since 2013, according to Governing magazine. Flawed equipment and enforcement has resulted in judges increasingly tossing out tickets. It hasn't helped that the CEO of one of the two major red-light manufacturers was indicted on bribery tied to Chicago's program.

In response, cities nationwide, including Houston and Arlington, have put a stop to the program altogether. Houston's City Council banned its cameras in 2010. After a voter referendum, Arlington shut down its red-light cameras in 2015.

For some cities, the additional cash flow generated has been a hard addiction to break. The Dallas program generates $7 million a year, on average, in revenue from the $75 tickets. Half of that money goes to the vendor. The other half, which amounts to $3.5 million, is split between the city and the state.

In March, the Texas Senate approved SB 88, which would prohibit cities from implementing new red-light programs. The bill has been sent to the House for consideration. The bill would allow Dallas to proceed with its plan for red-light cameras for the next decade. While there have been some calls for the legislation to remove this grandfathering clause, it currently remains in place.

State Sen. Bob Hall sponsored the bill after reviewing studies that indicate the cameras don't make roads safer. Some also believe the bill is unconstitutional, since a person who receives a ticket is presumed guilty and has to prove their innocence. The goal of the bill, Hall said, is "to permanently protect individual rights and end an unsafe practice in Texas."

During the council meeting, Kingston suggested a November referendum on the issue to let voters decide if they want the program, as was done in Arlington.

Lucky for us, our turn to have a voice will be May 6, when every single City Council seat is up for election. Your green light to be heard is staring you in the face. It's called a ballot box.

Dallas Council members who approved the red-light camera program were Adam McGough, Adam Medrano, Sandy Greyson, Monica Alonzo, Lee Kleinman, Rickey Don Callahan, Jennifer Staubach Gates, and Mark Clayton.

Voting against: Tiffinni Young, Carolyn King Arnold, Erik Wilson, Scott Griggs, Casey Thomas, and Philip Kingston.