THE INTERSECTION – Any driver in Houston knows that, if your car is first in line when the traffic light turns green, you never go forward. Why? Because some cretin will come whipping across your bow at 70, with the distinct possibility of turning you into a small item on the newspaper’s obituary page. So you wait until that train of traffic stops. Only then do you creep out into — WHAM! That train was longer than I thought. Thanks, Gov. Greg Abbott.
As you may have heard, our esteemed guv has just posted on his Twitter account: “More & more I think it’s time to do away with Red-Light cameras in Texas. Study Shows No Evidence Red-Light Cameras Lead To Improvements In Safety.” More & more I wish we had a gubernatorial election next November. This disregard of Texans’ safety is not new. Remember when former Gov. George (Oops) Bush vetoed a measure passed by the Republican-controlled state legislature outlawing texting while driving? Bush called the bill an “overreach” and a “government effort to micromanage the behavior of adults.” (This reminds us of Jack Dillon Young. In 2017 his pickup truck slammed into a church bus near Uvalde killing 13 people. Young admitted he was texting at the time.)
Now W’s successor is in favor of letting red-light runners keep running. Abbott based his stand on a new study done by Justin Gallagher, assistant professor of economics at Case Western Reserve University, who reviewed Texas traffic in several major cities, especially Houston. His study found that, while fewer motorists may go through red lights at intersections with cameras, there are more rear-end collisions as drivers slam on their brakes to avoid going into the intersection, and are hit by vehicles from behind. “At the same time, electronic monitoring is likely to increase other types of accidents.” In Houston, the cameras caused “non-angle” accidents, such as rear-end collisions, to go up 18 percent. In Dallas and Houston combined, the cameras caused a 28 percent increase in those accidents. The study found “no evidence of a reduction in total accidents or injuries” where cameras are used. (Incidentally, “angle accidents” are what we would call T-bones, a vehicle slamming into another from the side.) The study found: “Approximately one-third of all Houston intersection accidents are angle accidents.”
British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli is credited with saying, “There are lies, damned lies, and statistics.” So this statistical study may be flawed, but it comes at a great time. Red light cameras are used in nearly two dozen states. Arlington uses them. So does Fort Worth, where organizers launched a petition to get rid of the cameras, but failed. The most unusual case is Houston. It operated a large camera program at 66 intersections between 2006 and 2010, then city residents passed a referendum in November of 2010 to ban the cameras.
The city had to pay out a bundle to the company that operated the cameras for breaking the contract.
Those opposed to the cameras say they are only a way for the city to make money. We must assume that these people never put money or swipe credit cards at parking meters, the meters only being another way for the city to pick our pockets. As for paying water bills or city taxes, maybe they don’t. Also, the critics believe cameras violate the U.S. Constitution. Perhaps they cite the right to bear arms for their defense, in this case the weapon is a pickup with a rifle rack. Critics hope the Texas Legislature next year will ban the cameras that generate millions of dollars each year for its cities. Such a move is possible because, as you and I have discussed, our legislators have already usurped local governments to deal with plastic bags, Uber, Lyft and where to plant trees.
A moment now to explain to the uninformed exactly what we are discussing. Cameras are set so vehicles entering intersections after the light has turned red — and those that don’t come to a complete stop before making a right turn on a red light — are photographed. Vehicles entering the intersection on yellow that are still in the intersection when the light turns red are not photographed, according to the Texas Department of Transportation. After each offense, a ticket is automatically sent to the car’s owner. This last part causes problems with the critics, because the driver may not be the owner. Maybe the cameras should also take a picture of the driver, especially if he’s driving a getaway car.
If Gov. Abbott likes a select set of statistics, we have others. In one study in Virginia, red light cameras reduced the number of total drivers running red lights by 67 percent. More than 100,000 crashes and 1,000 fatalities are caused by motorists running red lights each year, according to the Texas Department of Transportation. A Northwestern University Transportation study of Chicago’s red-light cameras program found it “delivers significant safety benefits,” and recommended that the program be continued.
Some have argued that the cameras are an invasion of privacy. This may be true, so avoid going where video or photo shots are taken. This includes any liquor or convenience store, hospital, bank, post office, malls and most street corners. Best to just stay home. It is also charged – as mentioned — that the cameras violate our constitutional rights. This stance has been taken to court several times. Judges in Ohio and Florida have ruled in favor of the red-light runners. Other judges, including a federal judge in Chicago, say cities are perfectly legal to enforce those laws. Like the studies and statistics, you can pick the flavor that suits your preconceived notion. I have made my own learned study on the matter and have determined that red-light runners believe they own the road, don’t have to obey the law and can get away with it. I have a 100 percent chance of being right.
Ashby is red at email@example.com