August 3, 2007 By Wayne Hanson
On Sept. 1, a new Texas law takes effect that would enable local governments to install red-light camera systems, but with a number of restrictions. The restrictions were added by the Texas House -- which the Texas Municipal League terms "traditionally very hostile toward red light cameras." Senate Bill 1119 states that a local authority may contract for red-light camera systems, but contractors may not be paid "a percentage of, or dollar amount from" civil penalties collected.
Other restrictions include a detailed traffic engineering study of each intersection proposed for camera installation, signage leading up to the intersection warning motorists of the cameras, and reports on traffic accidents at each intersection before and after installation. In addition half the civil penalties collected must be surrendered to a regional trauma account and the rest spent only for traffic-safety programs.
A Texas Legislative Budget Board Note, published in May, outlines the fiscal impact of the passage of SB119, and a House Status Report on Red Light Camera Systems, released in July 2006, outlines many of the issues and results of red-light camera systems in the state and elsewhere.
The status report, for example, says that 21 Texas cities have implemented or are in the process of implementing red-light camera systems, and that Garland, Texas, generated over $1.4 million in gross revenues from the cameras in 2005, the first full year of operation. After that, revenues dropped to $0.8 million in 2006 and $0.09 million for 2007 through the first five months of the year.
The cameras appear to be very effective in reducing vehicle side-impact crashes. The report cites a Federal Transportation Research Board report that says: Charlotte, N.C., crash types dropped by 19 percent and crash severity fell by 16 percent during a three-year period; Sacramento, Calif., red-light crashes decreased 39 percent during a one-year period; and Baltimore County, Md., red-light crashes fell 30 percent during a one-year period.
"The financial costs of these accidents in Texas," says the report, "have been estimated at between $1.4 billion and $3 billion annually in medical, insurance and related expenses."