Red Light Cameras Now Snapping Pictures at Houston Intersections

This time it's for real. That's the warning for Houston drivers who might be tempted to run red lights at some of the city's busiest intersections. As Houston Public Radio's Jack Williams reports, new red light cameras are up and running for the first time today.

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At Milam and Elgin on the south side of downtown, drivers are noticeably more cautious as they pass signs that warn them the upcoming intersection is "photo enforced." It's one of ten intersection across the city now monitored by automated cameras that record red light violations. Houston Police Traffic Division Sgt. Michael Muenich says two different types of cameras will watch each intersection.

"One takes still images, which is shown on the notice of violation and then there's a second camera that actually catches a video feed of the event."

The cameras are operated by American Traffic Solutions, which will record the violations, check them for accuracy, and then forward the violations to HPD, which will send the $75 citations to violators. All of the red light camera citations are considered civil violations, similar to parking tickets. Muenich says violations won't be recorded unless the vehicle enters the intersection after a light has turned red.

"It's not going to be a situation where people have to be concerned about going through a light on a yellow, the light changing to red, and then they're caught on video. The system is not even activated until that light is a full red before they ever get to the intersection."

Citations include three photos of the violation, one of the vehicle before it enters the intersection with a red light, another that shows the vehicle in the intersection, and the third a close-up of the vehicle's license plate. Muenich says attempts to make plates harder to read usually don't work.

"Some of the clear plastic covers that people put on their license plate thinking that that's going to blind the camera, actually it enhances the picture because the license plates themselves have a reflective capability and when they put this clear cover on there, it kind of cuts that reflectivity down, which enhances the picture that the camera is able to capture."

A 2005 Federal Highway Administration study of collisions at intersections with red light cameras showed a decrease in so-called "t-bone" crashes, but an increase in rear-end collisions. Muenich says drivers should be aware of their surroundings at all intersections.

"We're just hoping that everyone, when they're aware that there's a camera or a potential camera site in front of them, that they're going to be more aware not only of the light, but of the traffic around them and drive safer."

The city plans to add cameras at at least 40 other intersections in Houston. You can find list of the current red light camera intersections and photos of the new cameras on our website, KUHF.org

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