Carl Isett and Gary Elkins deserve huge kudos for their stalwart opposition to the cameras over the years on personal liberty grounds, and I'm glad to see them working across party lines with Ortiz and others to get rid of them. The amendment passed on a 107-36 vote.
[Bill sponsor Rep. Carl] Isett has long opposed the use of the cameras at busy intersections - including at five in Amarillo - on grounds that they are money-making operations for local governments (the average fine is $75) and unconstitutional because the program doesn't allow motorists to fight charges that they ran a red light.
Isett has pushed this legislation for several years but usually has been met with opposition from lawmakers representing large metropolitan areas such as Dallas, Houston and San Antonio, which are municipalities that use the cameras. Dallas recently reported that it made more than $3 million ticketing motorists who the automated devices caught running red lights.
But this time that bloc of big-city lawmakers didn't hold the influence it once did on the issue.
The authors were pleased.
"Let's be honest with the public," Elkins said. "This is all about generating revenue for the cities, not about public safety."
In Houston, for example, at intersections using red-light cameras, accidents, mainly rear-end collisions, increased by 118 percent, Elkins said.
If the Senate approves the Elkins-Ortiz amendment in Isett's transportation bill - the TxDOT reorganization is a legislative priority this session - the phasing out of red-light cameras would be gradual, Elkins explained.
For starters, TxDOT, not local governments, would have jurisdiction over the devices. In addition, starting June 1, no more red-light camera contracts would be approved in the state, and existing contracts would not be renewed.
In addition, they've crafted a particularly clever approach in case the Senate refuses to keep the amendment on. According to KBTX out of Bryan:
The Senate still has to look at the issues. The authors of the bill apparently have a back up plan if the Senate doesn't see Red like the House did.
Ortiz and Elkins have added this line to their amendment: "[TxDOT] by rule shall require that the change interval in a light equipped with a photographic traffic signal enforcement system must be at least one second longer than the minimum change interval established in accordance with the Texas Manual on Uniform Traffic Control
Ohio and Georgia have enacted longer yellow requirements to great effect. In Georgia, seven cities known to have lengthened yellows since January have seen violations decrease by 70 to 80 percent. A Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) study documented a 40 percent decrease in collisions after testing the benefits of increasing the yellow warning given to motorists before an intersection signal changes from green to red.
Requiring cities to lengthen yellow light lengths will reduce revenue dramatically for red light camera schemes and likely cause cities to eliminate them on their own. Everyone says they're about safety, but those data are inconclusive while what cities seem most excited about everywhere they're implemented is revenue from tickets. When that declines 40-80%, the cameras won't look nearly so appealing.
RELATED: Paul Burka dislikes a lot of the other stuff that made it into the DoT Sunset bill.