If you've received one (or several) of the 125,000 citations issued to those who've run red lights under the watchful eye of those cameras perched over 66 intersections, you've faced two choices: Pay the $75 fine and avoid further hassle, or keep your money and take comfort in the fact that there's hardly an enforcement mechanism in place.
If you've chosen the latter option more times than you're comfortable admitting, the time to pony up some cash could be nearing. At this morning's Automated Red Light Enforcement Commission meeting at City Hall, Donzell Gipson, an assistant director at the Dallas Police Department, told committee members the DPD is considering a crackdown on repeat offenders.
After receiving ample notice, people with multiple unpaid tickets would be prevented from registering their car, making scofflaws liable for even steeper punishment. Gipson told Unfair Park this punitive system could go into effect shortly after the committee's next quarterly meeting.
"Hopefully that would get enough people's attention that they would take care of their account here," Gipson said, and it may put a dent in the "sizable accounts receivable," a tally that dates back to 2006.
As it stands now, commission member, Brett Ferguson said, "You don't really have to comply. ... I'm feeling both from the law enforcement side and the public side, people say, 'Well, I've paid mine, but I didn't have to pay.' And I just don't know the answer." If the outstanding balance adds up, it may affect a person's credit rating, but that's about it.
"It's voluntary compliance," Gipson said.
"There needs to be some repercussions for those repeat offenders," said committee chair Raul Magdaleno. "Give them a grace period: 'You have until this time, and if not, you won't be able to register your car." Magdaleno said he recommends people with three red light citations be prevented from registering their car. Committee members raised their hands in unanimous support.
Unlike citations issued directly by police, red light camera citations are not criminal, meaning a person can't be arrested for failure to repay the fine. Ferguson said some people should count themselves lucky to have only received a red light citation and not harsher punishment. "Maybe you had a tail light out. Maybe you had a couple drinks. Maybe your registration was expired. ... There is an upside to this for a lot of folks who get those tickets," he said.
Additionally, the DPD is considering upgrading the cameras at many intersections to effectively identify a greater number of license plates. Gipson said the department has the capacity of annually ticketing another 30,000 people running red lights if they could accurately document more incidents.
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"The attempt is to change the behavior," Gipson told Unfair Park. "It's our way of tapping them on the shoulder." While the program supports itself, it isn't a big moneymaker for the city, which equally splits the revenue with the state.
Gipson said he's concerned that the safety effects of red light cameras often get lost in conversations about money and implementation. To that end, Elizabeth Ramirez, P.E., assistant director of the city's Streets Department, gave the committee a briefing on the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) study, which studied the safety impacts of red light cameras in 12 Texas cities and was released in June.
The study, which compared crash frequencies to determine the cameras' effectiveness, concluded that the cameras' implementation resulted in a 27 percent overall decrease in the frequency of accidents and a 38 percent decrease in Dallas. "Overall you're seeing that there's a consistent reduction of crashes," Ramirez said.
So, it's not all about the money, even though red light debtors may soon be reaching into their pockets to keep their vehicle legal.