HPD answers questions about red light cameras

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Today’s Chronicle Q & A is with Assistant HPD Chief Martha Montalvo on the topic of red light cameras. This appears to be one of the better Q & A’s (which is NOT a ringing endorsement), although it’s lacking some tough questions and follow-ups:

Q: What happens if city vehicles run red lights?

A: If there wasn’t an emergency purpose for running that red light or if there wasn’t a reason, then that employee will have to pay.

It would be nice if our local watchdog media actually follow up to see if this is happening.

Q: Some critics have complained that cameras result in more rear-end collisions as drivers stop suddenly to avoid getting caught by cameras. Is this true?

A: I’ve read some of the studies in regard to that. There’s also studies that show that the red-light cameras play a part in reducing a lot of the right-angle crashes, or driver-side crashes, which are more dangerous than the rear-end crashes.

That is just BEGGING for a follow-up question (or two or three!). What does Montalvo think of the studies she’s read about rear-end collisions? Why does she think that using automation that causes collisions is preferable to using actual police officers? What does she think about the Washington Post investigation that found serious-injury accidents and fatalities increased at intersections with red light cameras?

Q: Some say the city’s motive is to raise revenue. Is that true?

A: That is not true. Each of these citations will be $75 a pop. Of course, after a third violation it goes up to $150. But our priority is, and always has been, safety.

Follow-up! If the goal isn’t revenue, why didn’t the city try lengthening yellow light times first? Here’s Montalvo’s take on that from a KHOU-11 story awhile back:

A study in San Diego found that simply lengthening the yellow light by a second cut violations by 25 percent and adding less than two seconds, cut them by 90 percent.

They also discovered that the company hired to run the program was getting paid per ticket issued and had been shaving time off the yellow lights.

Montalvo vows that won’t happen here, but also says she doesn’t intend to even try adding a second or two to the yellow lights. She’s sticking with the cameras.

“I truly believe this program is going to work, and I don’t see the logic of lengthening the yellow light,” she says.

It’s hard to believe Montalvo survived that withering Q & A session.


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Anne Linehan is a co-founder of blogHOUSTON.