The problem, according to City Council member Philip Kingston, is that red light cameras seek to fix a problem that doesn't exist.
"[Red light cameras] are based on two fallacies," Kingston says. "The first is that there are a bunch of people out there who intentionally run red lights. Those people almost don't exist; maybe they do exist, but it's a vanishingly small number. Then, the second fallacy is that writing a ticket would change their minds if they're that kind of person."
In response to a presentation to the Dallas City Council's public safety committee about extending the city's current red light contract, Kingston suggested doing things that will actually cause fewer people to run red lights, like extending yellow light times, a tactic that has led to fewer violations, and fewer wrecks, in other cities.
According to the presentation, made by city staff without their having read any of the major studies on red light cameras, there have been decreases in crashes, injuries and deaths at the 31 Dallas intersections sporting the cameras. Kingston acknowledges the declines, but says the numbers are statistically insignificant.
"Nobody's looked at [any studies]. The only thing they do is track a very small number of intersections here in town. They claim a reduction in accidents, but there's no way to tie those to the cameras," he says. "They don't analyze causation at all. The minute you put any academic rigor to it, all of these claims evaporate."
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City staff is urging the extension of the contract signed in 2006 rather than seeking a new contract. The Legislature passed a law in 2007 that forbids cities from dinging the credit reports of people who don't pay red light ticket fines. Agreements signed by cities before that year are exempt from the restriction, allowing Dallas to mark scofflaws' credit reports. If the contract changes, the only enforcement mechanism left to the city will be vehicle registration blocks.
Even with the threat of a lower credit scored to drivers, some 35 percent of tickets issued eventually go into collections, making the program more trouble than it's worth, Kingston says.
"It's not working. We're having to overfund what we thought we where going to have to fund because it doesn't generate [as much revenue as expected]."
The staff recommendations were accepted by the committee over Kingston's objections, but he hopes to round up enough votes from the full council to get rid of the cameras or at least substantially change the next enforcement contract.