HOUSTON – Horrifying accidents that occur when people run red lights at busy intersections kill more than 700 people a year in this country, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
That’s why the Sugar Land police chief said his city started using red-light cameras in 2007.
“Number one, we want to reduce traffic accidents. But I think even more importantly is driver compliance with the traffic safety rules of the road," said Chief Douglas Brinkley.
Currently, there are cameras at nine different locations throughout the city of Sugar Land.
And according to Chief Brinkley, the cameras are working.
The number of people running red lights is down 58 percent, and in just the last three years, the fees collected from violators totals close to $6 million.
Of that money, Sugar Land gets one-third of that cash, minus operating expenses.
But neighbor Helwig Van Der Grinten hates the idea and the cameras and is doing everything in his power to fight back.
“It’s extortion. It’s scaring people into paying when they don’t have to," Van Der Grinten said.
Van Der Grinten and his group, The Houston Coalition Against Red Light Cameras, have been working to get rid of red-light cameras for eight years.
And then suddenly last March, Mr. Van Der Grinten found himself smack-dab in the middle of the lens of one of those red light cameras, just as the traffic light ahead turned red.
He blew right through it.
“I misguessed as to where I would be when the light turned red. I guessed wrong by three-tenths of a second, and that three-tenths cost me $75,” Van Der Grinten said.
Van Der Grinten refuses to pay that violation because he claims he doesn’t have to and he said neither do you.
“There is no penalty for unpaid red-light camera tickets, other than a $25 late fee and that’s voluntary as well. They cannot report your nonpayment to any of the three credit bureaus, they can’t, or won’t, restrict your ability to register your car and they can’t arrest you, so there is no penalty for not paying the ticket,” Van Der Grinten said.
However, the city of Sugar Land will send your case to a law firm to try and collect the money from you.
Van Der Grinten said that means a lot of threatening phone calls and letters but little else.
Still Chief Douglas Brinkley reminds all of us that running a red light is against the law.
And he said if you are caught doing that by a living, breathing officer of the law, it is different than being caught by the red-light camera.
“Look, we don’t have an officer at every intersection. But if that same officer, a physical officer, is out there to issue you a citation for that, that’s a criminal offense,” said Brinkley.
Right now the Houston Coalition Against Red Light Cameras is planning to file a class action law suit against the city of Sugar Land, claiming the red-light cameras are illegal.