New battle brewing over red light cams

December 26, 2008 4:30:04 PM PST
Drivers in Houston see them every day and red light runners fear them. Now there's a new debate over the cameras set up at intersections across Houston. Do they really help prevent accidents? [SIGN UP: Get headlines and breaking news sent to you]

Lawyers who've questioned the constitutionality of those red light cameras now accuse the city of withholding new research. They claim it's proof the cameras do nothing to prevent accidents. The city says otherwise.

The lawsuit was filed by two defense attorneys, who, citing the Texas Public Information Act, are suing the city to get unreleased data on a report showing the effectiveness of red light cameras. They say a study was completed back in August by Rice University, but that the city is withholding the data because it shows an actual increase in accidents at red light camera intersections.

But Houston Mayor Bill White's office believes some of the data is corrupt. For instance, accidents that occurred on overpasses above red light intersections were included in the total number of accidents and therefore, it's not accurate.

At a news conference Friday, the attorneys behind the lawsuit say they want all the data and they want it now.

"The city of Houston is picking and choosing the data they want to give for these studies for their own purposes," said attorney Randall Kallinen.

"They're trying to characterize a study that hasn't been released yet," countered Patrick Trahan with Mayor White's office. "When you get into the level of detail of what is being studied, you'll get far more information on what that study really means."

The city says they'll release the report on the effectiveness of the red light cameras on Monday. When we asked them why it wouldn't be released sooner, a city spokesperson says it's because a lot of people behind it are off on vacation. While the spokesman said the city is not unhappy with the report, the attorneys behind the lawsuit don't trust the report because they're not confident it hasn't been doctored.

Contradictory study

There was a study released earlier this month which opponents say is contradictory to Rice University's research. The study by Texas A&M said side impact crashes were cut by 43 percent in intersections with red light cameras. Although rear end crashes increased slightly by 5 percent, the overall decrease was 30 percent.

More red light cameras are coming to towns outside of Houston.

More cams coming

Last week, the Splendora city council approved an agreement with American Traffic Solutions, a company which operates red light cameras. Two red light cameras will be installed on the north and southbound feeder roads of Highway 59. An exact date on when tickets will be given out has not yet been released.

Cams illegal in Dallas

Just last week, a judge in north Texas upheld his ruling that red light cameras are operating illegally in Dallas. State district Judge Craig Smith says the company that operates the cameras in Dallas doesn't have the proper state license. The plaintiff in that case has also filed a class action lawsuit that seeks to get companies to repay people who have already paid a fine for a red light camera ticket. The company that operates the red light cameras in Houston was not named in the Dallas lawsuit.

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