If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is, and that goes double for the system of cameras the City of Austin voted today to install to give tickets to red light runners.
Vendors will pay for the cameras to be installed, then take a percentage of the profits. So do you think those vendors (or the city, which anticipates a big revenue windfall) have any interest in actually reducing red light running? Not a chance - the more red lights are run, the more money they make. In other cities municipalities actually lowered the length of yellow light times in order to increase revenue.
Most studies on the subject not paid for by vendors find that the number of injury accidents stays about the same when red light cameras are installed, or sometimes increase. The state of Virginia banned municipal red light camera use because a statewide study showed they were sending more ambulances to auto accidents, not less, after the cameras were installed. Other states have followed suit.
People don't run red lights on purpose, they tend to do it by accident, and cameras won't help that.
Councilmember Mike Martinez, in particular, came off simultaneously arrogant and ignorant on the subject, declaring criticisms of the camera scheme by the ACLU central Texas chapter "not substantive," but refusing to debate the topic. Not only was he being an asshole, he was flat out wrong: ACLU presented the council with a plethora of legitimate studies and other documentation, while councilmembers (according to results from an ACLU open records request) received all their data from industry lobbyists. City staff hadn't even bothered to contact more neutral sources.
Martinez should be ashamed of himself. IMO he bared his ass and came off as though he didn't care what the facts were - he just wants the extra income. What invertebrate cowardice! If the city needs more money, show some balls and raise taxes - don't try to mulct citizens through the back door.
City Council claims that this is about "safety" are an obvious canard. The Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M says there would be a greater benefit in accident reduction - they estimate 40%, according to testimony at the hearing - simply by increasing yellow light times by one second. Another proven method is to add a visible counter to traffic signals at high-risk intersections that counts down the moments until the light changes - most red light running happens because drivers are guessing when the light will change, and the counter takes out all the guesswork, dramatically reducing accidents.
But the city isn't looking at increasing yellow light times. Why? Because it would decrease camera revenue.
This is nothing but a scam. More later on some of the legal aspects, but for now if you're interested check out past coverage of this issue from Grits for Breakfast when the matter was before the Texas Legislature.
UPDATE: See Statesman coverage and comments from the public.