They don't work. At least not in the way they're intended to. Study after study shows that red light cameras are, at best, an inefficient revenue generator and, at worst, increase accidents.
Dallas' red light enforcement is especially bad. Because the city signed its contract with Xerox -- the company that collects red light fines for the city -- in 2006, it is able to ding the credit reports of drivers who fail to pay their tickets. The Legislature made the practice illegal in 2007, but Dallas was grandfathered in because of its existing contract.
City staff recommended extending the current contract, rather than putting a new one out for bid, because that will allow Dallas to mess with scofflaws' credit until at least 2017. Credit reporting is the only thing that gives red light tickets teeth, they say.
Wednesday, over strenuous objections from council member Philip Kingston, the City Council approved the contract extension.
"[Red light cameras] are based on two fallacies," Kingston said. "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 to assume that a $75 dollar ticket is going to deter that psychopath."
Even if council members believe the cameras promote safety -- and the data says the cameras actually tend to increase rear-end collisions at a greater rate than they decrease T-bone collisions -- Kingston said that they should consider what the credit reporting does to people who can't afford to pay.
"If you still believe in red light cameras, that's fine. I still believe that my Alvin Harper jersey helps the Cowboys win and this season I'm right," he said, but continuing to hurt people's credit is "a regressive way to do collections."
Kingston being the only member of the council with any real knowledge of the data on the subject, what followed was expected.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the Observer's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Dallas's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Sandy Greyson, Tennelle Atkins and Mayor Mike Rawlings, all of whom voted for the contract, said that they had been involved in accidents where the other party ran a red light.
"I'm not trying to impose additional [fines] on poor people," Greyson said. People who don't want to or can't pay the $75 "shouldn't run a red light."
Dwaine Caraway, who told First Assistant Police Chief Charlie Cato that he wanted DPD to "camera up the city of Dallas," also expressed hesitance over credit marking. He, Scott Griggs and Adam Medrano were the only council members besides Kingston to vote against the cameras and the credit report markers.
"[The cameras] were bunk when we put them in. Further study shows they're more bunk now," Kingston said.