Red Light Cameras: First Tickets in the Mail

Around 600 violators will receive tickets after getting caught by the city's red light cameras. Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson reports.

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The first batch of tickets should be arriving in the mailboxes of hundreds of drivers who ran red lights at ten Houston intersections. Houston Police Traffic Division Sgt. Michael Muench says they've recorded about 600 violations in less than a week of operations.

"I think that is very demonstrative of the problem that we have in the Houston area with people just totally disregarding obvious traffic signs and lights and soforth and that's why we have such a high crash rate. And that's what this program is here to try to improve driver awareness and improve their behavior so that they are being more conscious of these signs and what the rules of the road are."

Two officers are in charge of reviewing the video footage for red light runners. They then determine whether the footage confirms an actual violation. Muench says of the 600 or so clips processed, about 70 have been thrown out after review.

"They're looking for the position of the vehicle in the first photograph, showing that the vehicle did not cross the stop bar prior to the light going red. And then also where the vehicle is in the second image as it's either progressing into the intersection or through the intersection. And then, of course, the third image is of the actual license plate of the vehicle itself. And what they're looking for is to make sure that it appears to be a good violation."

Anyone who enters an intersection while the light is yellow will not be ticketed. Drivers turning right on red are also exempt from citations. Muench says they're only going after the most blatant violators. Even so, the number of people who have broken the law is lower than HPD's original estimates. They expected to record as many as 250 red light runners per day. And in the early months of the program, HPD expects the challenge rate for these citations to be high.

"But as time goes on, we see that that's not going to -- that shouldn't be really an issue for us because the evidence presented to the citizen is very clear. And they can access it over the internet by going to the website before they even actually have a hearing. So they can look at it at home and determine 'well, yes that was my vehicle and yes it was clearly running the red light.' And that's very convincing for the individuals and they just go ahead and resolve the issue right then."

HPD officials say it's too early to tell if these numbers will rise or fall. The system is still being adjusted and tweaked. HPD plans to place red light cameras at 40 additional intersections. Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.

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