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Photo Illustration By Louis Dixon.

Barreling through red lights can be dangerous. No rational person would say otherwise. But red light cameras take enforcement too far. My 11-year-old Ford pickup with 225,000 miles on it and at least three major brake jobs over the years can’t stop on a dime. Taking a full-size, 4,000-pound pickup from 55 mph to a dead stop in the three or four seconds typically allowed by yellow lights isn’t always feasible. That’s why I barreled through a red light on a Roanoke highway last year.

The Roanoke citation is probably the fourth ticket I’ve received via red light cameras in the past 10 years. About once every two years I make a split-second decision, decide wrong, and get a camera ticket. When I sail through the red light, however, it’s just a second after the light has changed and well before the drivers waiting in the cross streets are given the green light to go. There is a difference between voluntarily running a red light, trying to beat a yellow light, or deciding against possibly cratering your entire braking system to bring two tons of metal to a screeching stop in three seconds because some anal-retentive camera in some greedy-ass town is trying to catch you missing a light by a hair, allowing them to legally extort $75 from you. 

This time, I decided to keep my wallet in my pocket. Sorry, Roanoke.

ElRanchito_300x250_2018.12.11

After a month or so, Roanoke sent a warning about my unpaid ticket. It went in the trash. In January, the city sent a default notice saying, “Your failure to pay the $75 civil penalty has resulted in an additional late payment penalty of $25 and could result in a civil court action against you.” The notice listed a city ordinance that allows Roanoke to pursue debts, including interest and penalties, via a civil suit. The letter was serious and threatening. Another notice came in March under the heading “Scofflaw Vehicle Registration Hold Notice,” saying that the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles was placing a hold on my registration for my refusal to pay the $100.  “You will not be able to renew your registration without proof of payment for the outstanding amount due,” the letter continued.

Damn. I fought the law, and the law won. Or did it?

Before I pulled out my credit card, I decided to google “scofflaw,” “registration holds,” and “Texas.” The results were enlightening.

The Texas Transportation Code pretty much neuters red light cameras. The tickets are civil violations rather than convictions and do not trigger arrest warrants or bad marks on driving records. Creditors and insurance companies are not notified, and the law limits penalties to $75 and late payments to $25.

The cameras have courted controversy for years. Supporters say the cameras enforce the law, punish lawbreakers, improve driver safety by prompting motorists to slow down at intersections, and provide money for cities. Detractors say the cameras violate the Sixth Amendment, since motorists are deemed guilty before having their day in court, and the tickets are issued to the owner of the car rather than the driver. Also, critics say the cameras are less about safety and more about encouraging cities to reduce yellow light times, increase the number of red light violations, and boost revenue streams.

Many Texans refused to pay camera tickets during the 2000s. A Dallas Morning News survey of a dozen North Texas cities in 2011 showed that about a third of the tickets went unpaid, resulting in millions of dollars of lost revenue. The Texas Legislature passed the scofflaw bill in 2011 that permitted counties to withhold auto registrations for people with unpaid fines. Some counties, including Denton and Dallas counties, enforce the registration holds.

Tarrant County Tax Assessor-Collector Ron Wright was quoted by several different media outlets back then saying that his office would not be spending the extra time and money needed to enforce the scofflaw program. I called Wright a few days ago to ask if he had changed its stance since then. 

He hadn’t. Red light cameras are controversial and consistently being challenged by residents, Wright said. Clerks in the county tax office should not have to withhold auto registrations as leverage to force people to pay red light tickets.

“As long as I’m tax assessor-collector, we will not block registrations for red light cameras,” Wright said. “We are here to collect taxes, not red light camera fines. That is something the city imposes, and the city needs to collect. There are too many issues with it, and the tax assessor-collector’s office should not be involved in it.”

This neuters the enforcement power of red light cameras for Tarrant County residents. You register your auto in the county where you live.  Red light cameras can generate all the tickets they want across the state. And red light camera companies can send all the threatening letters they want about withholding your auto registration for unpaid tickets. However, it is up to the county tax assessor-collector to issue or withhold the registrations. Tarrant County’s tax collector says he is not messing with it –– unlike Dallas County’s tax collector. County tax collectors make up their owns minds what to do about it. In Tarrant County, we get to deposit those threatening letters into File 13. Dallas County residents will have to pay their fines or see their registrations withheld. Bummer.

In February, a bill filed in the Texas Senate cited the “deep flaws in many cities’ equipment and enforcement methods” and noted that the tickets violate people’s Sixth Amendment rights. Senate Bill 87, if passed, would eliminate counties from placing holds on auto registrations because of delinquent fines for red light camera tickets.

To Wright, I say, “Thank you. ” To Roanoke, I say, “Eat me.”

24 COMMENTS

  1. Several points.
    1) The three major credit bureaus stopped accepting notices of unpaid camera tickets because they do not consider them to be valid debts the vehicle owner voluntarily agreed to pay.
    2) For an actual approach speed of 55 mph, the yellow interval must be an absolute minimum of 5.0 seconds and is safer if set at 5.4 seconds (and longer if on a downgrade).
    3) Mr. Prince is correct, split second violations up to at least one full second into the red are harmless, the vehicles clear the intersection before cross traffic arrives.
    4) Red light cameras are government-run money-grab rackets that no one should support.
    5) The only permanent fix to end these rackets is a state law banning all ticket cameras. Texas residents need to call and write their state Representatives, Senators, and the Governor to politely but clearly insist that legislation to totally ban traffic enforcement cameras becomes law. Let each official know you find the cameras to be unacceptable and that complete removal is the only acceptable solution.
    http://www.house.state.tx.us/resources/frequently-asked-questions/#who_rep
    http://www.senate.state.tx.us/75r/Senate/Members.htm#FYI
    https://gov.texas.gov/contact/

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

    • Thanks to everyone for your contributions here. It’s great when technology works FOR THE PEOPLE! Tarrant County drivers are issued approx 500,000 red light photo tickets every year.
      It’s all about the money!

    • P.S. SB 87 — relating to registration of a motor vehicle alleged to have been involved in a violation detected by a photographic traffic signal enforcement system:
      County assessor-collector or The Texas Dept of Motor Vehicles may NOT refuse to register a motor vehicle alleged to have been involved in a violation of this chapter solely because the owner of the motor vehicle is delinquent in the payment of a civil penalty imposed under this chapter.

      The Bill passed, and went into effect 9/1/17.

  2. Red light camera companies are invested heavily with campaign contributions and lobbying techniques to ensure that traffic cameras are here to stay. Fort Worth does a great job of brainwashing their citizens into believing this is a traffic safety program while anyone with an ounce of common sense knows, “It’s all about the money.” Voters scream for change while voting the same career politicians back to office over and over again. Fort Worth, you deserve the red light cameras because you elected the mayor and city council that brought them here. Big Sister is watching you and you like it!

  3. there are actually several things you can do even if you are not in one of the counties that won’t block at all. No matter what county your vehicle is registered in you can renew with outstanding camera tickets. Check out trashyourticket.com to read how. Watch the video.

  4. These red light camera tickets are compared to gambling by the cities who put them up, they are like Vegas Casino’s the house nearly always wins, they set these cameras out and monkey with the timing of the lights and the speeds of the images, to make the public joe pickup drivers, reach into their shallow pockets, most never realize they’ve been had, they just send in the money never knowing they were violated. Its time these one armed cash registers bandits be ALL taken down, its a crime against joe public, and they shouldn’t take photo’s of public areas and send out traffic tickets for moving violations, its illegal search and seizure of joe publics assets by law, the traffic judge is city paid as well, what a damn racket! Judge says “Pay the clerk” and if you sass back, or the judge even thinks you did, he can throw you into jail. Thats criminal what these damned judges are doing! Its time to take them down, these cities must END THE CORRUPTION, *NOW*!!!

  5. I live in McKinney which is Collin County and Arlington would not give me a tag. All I presented was my license.

  6. This article is not true currently. My daughter was unable to register our truck today due to a red light ticket. Ron Wright Tarrant county tax assessor. So WTF?

    • Charles, give me a call next week. I’ll ask Mr. Wright if his policy has changed. I haven’t heard that it has, so I’m curious.
      Jeff Prince, 817-321-9709

      • If she tried to register on line or at a store the DMV system will block the registration. If she comes to one of my offices we will get her registered. Ron Wright

        • This is interesting, as I have heard this is the case and actually tested it last year. Went to an actual tax assessor office, registered no problm. So I wonder if that’s still the case

        • I had a coworker who called the tax office and was told she would have to pay the ticket. She was told that she had to provide the receipt showing that the red light camera ticket was paid before she could get her registration. I thought it wasn’t required in Tarrant County?

  7. Same here, I have a scufflaw hold too from Ft. Worth. I actually forgot about the ticket because I had major surgery after I got the notice. The red light cam on Trinity and HW 360 (Euless) flashes even when there is no one in the intersection. They will ticket you even if you are already in the intersection when it turns red. I honestly didn’t think they’d send a ticket to me. I was already in the intersection behind another car. I guess I have to walk in office to get registration.

  8. I received a red light ticket. What if i am told i need to go to civil court for non payment? How do you get away with paying?

  9. Got one last year on my old pickup and paid it. I remember there was something about that company had to send a fax to whatever county tax assessor’s office you were going to so they knew it was paid. I never got a receipt in the mail just paid with my credit card online. Now that i’m selling my truck and the tags are out of date I wonder if I have to make sure the tags are clear before I sell?

  10. I was told by DMV earlier that I gave to pay the ticket, well I did yesterday and faxed the paperwork to the county tax assessor office and I still couldn’t register my vehicle online.

  11. I know I’m late to the party but this is something I’ve kept my eye on for years as I continued to begrudgingly send a check to Arizona for the same camera in Hurst over and over again. After doing some research and coming to the same conclusions you have, I finally left my last one unpaid. I got my registration notice and in several areas I’ve been labeled a Scofflaw, but I’m going to mail in my payment and information anyway (to the most recent commenter, registering online is going to be out but in person and hopefully by mail will work – in Tarrant County anyway).
    I’m putting my trust in good ole Ron!

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