Red Light Cameras

Cameras at red lights fuel pedal-to-metal debate (Houston Chronicle)

Photo: How a red light traffic camera works. Some in the insurance industry want the city to slow down on a proposal to nab red light violators with automatic cameras, saying the plan could increase car insurance rates and reduce safety. But other industry officials say the city should proceed with full speed ahead, claiming Houston’s proposed ordinance would increase safety on the roads.

The primary concern stems from the city’s plan to treat red light violations recorded with a camera like parking citations. Under a proposed ordinance that the City Council would consider Wednesday, offenders would simply be ordered to pay a civil fine and not be assigned points on their driving records — no matter how many times they run red lights. “We’re questioning the wisdom here,” said Mark Hannah, spokesman for the Austin-based Insurance Council of Texas, a nonprofit group that represents the state’s insurance industry. “If a person runs six traffic lights in Houston, and all he is doing is paying fines, wouldn’t people be better off if the insurance companies knew about this guy and his insurance rates reflected his driving?” Hannah said. “It’s just a matter of time before someone gets killed.”

This, of course, presumes that the primary rationale for the cameras is the public’s safety. This is not the case. As Matt Labash explained, these cameras are motivated almost entirely by the desire to generate easy revenue.

The reason there are no points assigned to the license is that, in most states, the law requires that there be a witness to traffic offenses in order to obtain a criminal conviction. A camera is not a witness. Indeed, all the camera does is snap a picture of the vehicle, the intersection, and the traffic signal; it can not also show the face of the driver. By mailing out tickets with a no-hassle policy, the municipality gets around this provision of the law and gets most people to simply send their money in.

See also Traffic Light Cameras

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. David says:

    The camera in these systems can capture an image of the driver. In fact, this is necessary to avoid the owner of the vehicle claiming that he wasn’t driving the vehicle at the time of the violation, therefore, he was not responsible for the ticket. This system has been harangued for 15-20 years in Houston. A former Houston Police Chief offered an odd rationale for opposing the system–he thought that it would be unfair to men who got a notification of a violation in the mail that included a photo of the front-seat passengers if the the photo showed a woman other than his wife. I wonder if the Chief was thinking of anyone in particular?

  2. bryan says:

    Further, if the driver gets points on the driving record, and gets charged for several red lights, he can have his drivers license revoked, which would create a whole mess of other problems.

  3. If there were a law requiring that the yellow last at least XX seconds if a camera is installed, it would eliminate much red-light running (and much revenue).

    I love how the insurance companies are also looking out for public safety. “We need to raise our rates to protect our prof… er … safety, yeah, that’s it.”

  4. Jeremiad Screamer says:

    Other unintended consequences include an increase in rear-ender accidents at intersections when people who’ve gotten a camera ticket, like those around here, stop for stale green to avoid that .0000000001 millisecond yellow light. This also slows traffic down the line.