NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) – As the battle over red-light cameras heads to the Texas Supreme Court next week, the CBS 11 I-Team found hundreds of red-light cameras across North Texas maybe operating illegally.
Nearly half of the North Texas cities with red-light cameras did not do an engineering study before installing their cameras as required by state law.
Senate Bill 1119, passed in 2007, required cities to conduct an engineering study to justify the cameras’ use.
Lawmakers wanted to make sure red-light cameras were installed for safety reasons and not as a revenue generator.
City managers and police chiefs told the I-Team they did not have to do an engineering study because they were grandfathered into law.
This is the point of contention among cities and some state lawmakers.
State Representative Jim Murphy, who co-authored SB 1119, said no city was grandfathered in.
“Our intention was not to grandfather cameras in at all,” Murphy said. “That’s not what it says and I would challenge them (cities) to have that conversation. That’s not what we intended at all.”
In Chapter 707 of the Texas Transportation Code, it states:
“Before installing a photographic traffic signal enforcement system at an intersection approach, the local authority shall conduct a traffic engineering study of the approach to determine whether, in addition to or as an alternative to the system, a design change to the approach or a change in the signalization of the intersection is likely to reduce the number of red light violations at the intersection.”
By the time the law went into effect, several North Texas cities had already entered contracts with red-light camera vendors.
North Texas lawyer takes red-light camera case to Texas Supreme Court
Thousands of drivers every day in North Texas are caught running a red-light by one of the area’s hundreds of red-light cameras.
When Russell Bowman received a $75 ticket in the mail for a red-light camera violation six years ago, he sent the City of Richardson a letter explaining that he was not the driver.
“You would thought, since it’s 75 bucks, this is the guy we don’t need to mess with,” Bowman said. “But they wanted to push it.”
So Bowman, who is a lawyer, pushed back. He sued the City of Richardson.
It’s just the principal of it all,” Bowman said. “It just really rubs me the wrong way.”
The North Texas lawyer is now behind more than a half dozen red-light camera lawsuits, including a class action lawsuit against the City of Willis that has a hearing scheduled for November 1 before the State Supreme Court.
When building his cases, Bowman came across the paragraph in the Texas Transportation Code that states before a red light camera system can be installed, “the local authority shall conduct a traffic engineering study.”
When Bowman asked the City of Richardson for its study, the city could not provide it.
“If a city has not done that traffic engineering study, they can’t oppose a penalty on anyone,” Bowman said.
Only 1 of 25 North Texas cities with red-light cameras provided I-Team with study that complies with law
The I-Team asked the 25 North Texas cities with red light cameras for a copy of its engineering studies for all the red light camera intersections as specified in the Texas Transportation Code.
Twelve cities said they did not do an engineering study because they installed the cameras before there was a law requiring the study. (Fort Worth, Irving, Duncanville, North Richland Hills, Farmers Branch, Burleson, Hurst, Watauga, Cedar Hill, Coppell, Bedford, and University Park)
Representative Murphy said the law requires an engineering study regardless of when the cameras were installed. He also said the law requires the study to be done by an outside professional engineering firm.
When the I-Team requested copies of the engineering studies, ten North Texas cities provided studies or reports that were not done by an outside professional engineering firm.
Dallas refused to answer the I-Team public records request citing pending lawsuits and Richland Hills did not respond to the I-Team’s requests.
Only Southlake provided a study that Murphy said complies with the law.
Southlake Assistant Police Chief Ashleigh Douglas said, “We wanted to make sure before they were installed that they would be effective at reducing red light related collisions we had at those intersections.”
Murphy said red-light cameras were only to be installed as a last resort to make an intersection safer.
“We wanted an engineering study to help us determine that that was the best answer,” Murphy said.
North Texas cities say red-light cameras make roadways safer
Several North Texas cities told the I-Team an engineering study by an outside firm is not needed to prove that the cameras work.
“We’ve seen a decline in the number of motor vehicle accidents at those intersections with cameras,” said Duncanville Police Chief Robert Brown.
In Irving, the city’s director of transportation said red-light cameras have reduced accidents at those intersections by 34%.
“It’s a safety program,” said Transportation Director Dan Vedral. “And all the money is going back into the signal system to improve efficiency.”
Bedford Police Chief Jeff Gibson said, despite the popular belief that red-light cameras generate a tremendous amount of money for cities, his department would save money if it got rid of the cameras.
“The purpose is not revenue,” Gibson said. “The purpose is the health and safety of the community it serves. Red-light cameras, if removed, are removing a tool from our ability to address health and safety needs in the community.”