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Jan 30

Texas Legislature to Make Cameras see RED?

I subscribe to an RSS feed from the Texas Legislature that gives a one-line title to each bill introduced in the current Legislative session. Tonight, as I was scrolling through the day’s activity, a couple of titles caught my eye:

Senate Bill 369: Relating to an offense involving a motor vehicle with an altered or obscured license plate.

and

House Bill 985: Relating to the power of a local authority to enforce compliance with speed limits or a traffic-control signal on a highway under its jurisdiction by an automated traffic-control system.

The first bill is important, as it clarifies the earlier passed laws regarding obscuring license plates, and takes out the clause that has been abused about frames on license plates.

It also clearly legalizes the use of license-plate mounted transponders, like the ones being used by the Harris County Toll Road Authority when the metallic coating of some windshields interferes with traditional EZ-Tags.

The second bill instructs the Attorney General to deny implementation of photographic enforcement devices on highways within the state, including traffic light and speed enforcement.

This raised my curiosity, so I decided to dig deeper. I did a search on the Legislature’s web site for the word “photographic” in Bills introduced so far in this session and came up with a total of eight results. Here are the others of relevance:

  • House Bill 55: Relating to the power of a local authority to enforce compliance with a traffic-control signal on a highway under its jurisdiction by a photographic traffic signal enforcement system.
  • Senate Bill 125: Relating to the deposit of revenue collected from certain traffic penalties in the designated trauma facility and emergency medical services account.
  • House Bill 614: Relating to requiring a standard change interval for a yellow signal at intersections at which a municipality uses a photographic traffic monitoring system to enforce compliance with a traffic-control signal.
  • House Bill 922: Relating to the power of a municipality to enforce compliance with speed limits by an automated traffic control system.

The above bills show some of the creativeness of the representives that we have sent to Austin.

House Bills 55 and 922 are the same as House Bill 985, but they only cover traffic signal enforcement, while 985 added speed enforcement devices as well.

Senate Bill 125 seems the most interesting one. It says “fine, you can have them” but says that 50% of all revenue generated has to go to a designated trauma facility or other emergency health care center.

House Bill 614 also doesn’t ban them, but says that cities must maintain a minimum yellow light time as defined in the statewide standards. This is good, since it says they can’t shorten yellow lights to increase revenue. I have always advocated longer yellow light times at high-risk intersections, and several studies concur that the longer yellow light is a better accident deterent than red-light running tickets.

I support all of these bills, although a combination of Senate Bill 125, House Bill 614 and House Bill 985 would be the best solution. Tell the cities, “You can’t use them on the highways, but everywhere else is fine, and while you’re at it, those have to have minimum yellow light times and the trauma centers get half your revenue.”

I suspect a combination of that would deter many municipalities from beginning a program, and might even have some of the cities that have already taken the steps to install them to turn them off.

In the business I’m in, I frequently see questions about how to enforce human behavior by using a piece of technology. My response has always been, technology will not fix the problem of human nature, but humans work best at changing human behavior.

Cities like Houston need to invest in real officers on the streets, not in technology that accuses drivers of something without rock solid proof. The cameras they invested in only take pictures of the rear of the car, and then put the burden of proof on the owner to incriminate another driver or pay up. The system is flawed, and I hope that the state legislators will at least pass one of the above bills to start the way towards fixing the system.

About the author

Michael Jones

Michael Jones is the founder of On The Spot Communications and On The Spot Blog.

A native of Ottawa, Kansas (approximately 60 miles South-West of Kansas City), he was born in the early 70's and lived most of his early life without traveling far from home.

He has since lived in Lenexa, Kansas (suburb of Kansas City), Houston, Texas, and now resides in Frisco, Texas (north of Dallas, Texas). He has had the experience of traveling to Tokyo, Japan and Tel Aviv, Israel, as well as numerous places around the USA.

A self-professed computer geek, when Michael's not working in his telecommunications job, he enjoys Model Railroading and Paintball.

Michael Jones is the founder of On The Spot Communications and On The Spot Blog.
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