Are red light ticket notices just a threat?

February 17, 2010 8:42:35 PM PST
So you run a red light, your vehicle's picture is taken and you're sent a fine. The notice from the city of Houston says if you don't pay the fine, you can't renew your vehicle registration. But are the consequences of not paying the fine really consequences? Harris County Judge Ed Emmett didn't know anything about it until we started asking questions.

Ever since red light cameras went up in 2006, they've been challenged. Now the violation notices are being challenged too.

If you run a red light at any of the city's 70 intersections with cameras and don't pay the fine, you may eventually get a delinquency notice. It's not the amount due that's alarming says a traffic ticket attorney, it's the bold print at the top.

"To tell folks that in writing, in bold face writing on a notice, is at best a hollow threat, at worst is fraud," said traffic ticket attorney Scott Markowitz.

The Houston Police Department is now sending out delinquency notices for red light violations with this threat - failure to pay will cause a hold when you go to renew your vehicle's registration. HPD says it's just trying to enforce a state law.

"We're asking people please pay the fine and if they're not paying the fine that's been a problem," said HPD Chief Financial Officer Joseph Fenninger.

Depending on where you live, the consequence isn't necessarily true.

"That's just a false statement," said Harris County Judge Ed Emmett.

Harris County commissioners have refused to let the city use its tax assessor collector's office to withhold registration renewals for delinquent red light violators. There was a unanimous vote a few months ago. Commissioners said it was based on issues, some said it was politics. HPD's chief financial officer doesn't understand.

"Does that make sense? You're got a person who's run through a red light, could have killed somebody, has ignored the law from the city of Houston side and yet they want to renew the registration anyway," said Fenninger.

He says while Harris County isn't cooperating, other counties and the state are and therefore the notice is valid. However, out of the 77,000 people who would qualify for the registration hold, a majority of 48,000, according to HPD, are Harris County residents.

"If you're sending this to someone who is in Harris County then you're sending out a false document. That's just not a truthful statement so I don't know how you can send it out," said Judge Emmett.

Tonight was the first time Harris County Judge Ed Emmett saw the notice.

"That's really disappointing that the Houston Police Department - let me make sure I read that right," said Judge Emmett.

He says there's been no more discussion of the issue since the vote. HPD hopes the commissioners will come around to help with enforcement. Attorney Scott Markowitz says until then, change the notice.

"Houston should not be telling people that their registration is going to be denied," said Markowitz.

The state places the holds on the registrations. The county tax office actually enforces it, except if you try to renew online. If you have a hold, you won't be able to. However, until the city and the county agree, you can still walk into the tax office and renew your registration.


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