City Hall

Unpaid Dallas Red-Light Tickets Soon Won't Go on Credit Reports

Drivers who don't pay tickets for getting caught by one of Dallas' hated red-light cameras won't get a bad mark on their credit reports, Dallas police assistant director Donzell Gipson told the City Council's public safety committee Monday.

Gipson said the city is being forced to find a new way to prod collections earlier than expected.

"Another thing that popped up recently, that we thought wouldn't be a change until the middle of 2017, is that we've got notifications from Transunion, Experian and Equifax [the three major credit bureaus] that they are no longer going to honor credit marking," Gipson said.

In October 2014, the council voted to extend its contract with Xerox for red-light camera collection until March 2017. If the city had signed a new contract with Xerox or another collector instead of extending the old one, it no longer would have been allowed to ding the credit of those who didn't pay, because the city's original contract with Xerox began before the Texas Legislature banned red-light credit reporting in 2007. Council member Philip Kingston voted against the extension, urging the council to consider what reporting did to those who were unable 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."

The credit scoring companies will also remove any previous marks on people's reports for failure to pay city of Dallas red-light camera tickets. Now the city needs a new way to strong-arm red-light runners into paying, Gipson said.

“Otherwise, you’re telling the general public there is no reason to pay, other than civil obedience,” he said.

The city is in negotiations with the Dallas County to prevent drivers with outstanding red-light fines from registering their vehicles, much in the same way that the county does for those with outstanding fines for failure to pay North Texas Tollway Authority tolls.

Kingston, who is vehemently against red-light cameras as a concept — he cited data that shows they might increase rear-end collisions at intersections at which they are installed — expressed frustration with city staff's new plan.

"Red light cameras have been debunked as a safety tool over decades, going back to Australia in the '80s, D.C. in the '90s and Virginia in the 2000s. Every time you put in red-light cameras, you get an increase in rear-end crashes. You also don't get a statistically significant reduction in red-light running or crashes caused by red-light running," he said. "I'm sorry to use such harsh language but these things are really a fraud. I'm pleased that we're not going to credit mark anymore, but I'm dismayed that it's the result of the credit agencies telling us that we're not reliable partners as opposed to us actually caring about our stated public policy on the council of trying to reduce poverty."

Registration blocks are just as likely to cause problems for those who can't afford to pay as credit marks are, Kingston said.

The city's contract with Xerox expires next summer.
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Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young