New report warns Texans of red light camera risks

First Nationwide Study Recommends Safeguards to Protect Texans

TexPIRG Education Fund

(AUSTIN, TX) – A new research report released today outlines problems with the growing trend among cities to outsource traffic enforcement to red-light and speed camera vendors.

“Too many cities wrongly sign away power to ensure the safety of citizens on the roads when they privatize traffic law enforcement. Automated traffic ticketing tends to be governed by contracts that focus more on profits than safety,” said Melissa Cubria of TexPIRG, the Texas Public Interest Research Group. “That shouldn’t happen,” Cubria added.

The report, titled Caution: Red Light Cameras Ahead; The Risks of Privatizing Traffic Law Enforcement and How to Protect the Public finds that approximately half of states have enabled the use of automated traffic law enforcement.  Municipalities in these states contract with private companies to provide cameras and issue citations to traffic violators. Citizens have often objected to privatized forms of traffic enforcement and many municipalities have found themselves in legal trouble when they attempt to change or update these contracts. Traffic engineering alternatives, such as lengthening yellow lights, are often the best way to reduce injuries from red-light running. However, those solutions too often get ignored because contractors and sometimes municipalities are more focused on increasing revenue from tickets.

These cameras are managed by private companies. For them, the tickets they write up are earning as much money as possible rather than keeping our roads safe. No wonder that the industry has been sending contributions to Governor Rick Perry. Official data analyzed by the Center for Responsive Politics shows that in 2010, Governor Perry received a $25,000 contribution from Affiliated Computer Services, one of the nation’s largest traffic camera vendors. In addition, ACS has contributed more than $500,000 to the Republican Governors’ Association since 2004. Governor Perry served as the RGA’s chairman in 2008 and in 2011.

“This is just one of a long — very long — list of pay-to-play deals of Governor Rick Perry. The privatization schemes of this Governor, and many like him across the country, is not simply their abject failure to lead, it is ordinary citizens’ failure, thus far anyway, to self-organize and to unify across partisan and ideological lines.  This we must do now,” said Linda Curtis of Independent Texans.

Baytown signed a contract through 2019 for a red-light camera system with American Traffic Solutions. However, after voters decided that red-light tickets could not be issued unless a uniformed officer was present at an intersection, the city began waiving many of the citations issued by the system. In response, American Traffic Solutions filed a lawsuit, alleging that the city was failing to meet its contractual obligation to issue tickets. In August 2011, Baytown settled the dispute by authorizing a $1 million payment to American Traffic Solutions in exchange for early camera removal.

“A red light camera is unconstitutional on its face,” contends Terri Hall, Founder, Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom, whose group adamantly opposes the privatization of public infrastructure. “We have a constitutional right to face our accuser in court and we can’t face a camera in court. Furthermore, traffic enforcement measures should be about safety, not raising revenue and these cameras have made our intersections less safe. This is another example of how privatizing a government function isn’t a good deal for our citizens.”

The TexPIRG report recommends stronger guidelines to ensure that automated traffic enforcement programs must focus on improving road safety, rather than ticket revenue.  Deals between local governments and traffic camera vendors should:

•    Put public safety first in decisions regarding enforcement of traffic laws – this includes evaluating privatized law enforcement camera systems against alternative options without regard to potential revenues.
•    Ensure that contract language is free from potential conflicts of interest.
•    Avoid direct or indirect incentives for vendors that are based on the volume of tickets or fines.
•    Retain public control over traffic policy and engineering decisions, including cancelling contracts if the public is dissatisfied.
•    Ensure that the process of contracting with vendors is completely open, with ample opportunity for public participation and each ticket listing where to find online data about automated ticketing for each intersection.

“Texas has already seen controversy over the use of red-light cameras. We must learn from our mistakes here and elsewhere,” concluded Cubria.