The red light cameras ticket drivers that illegally run red lights at intersections in which they are installed. However, Round Rock Police Chief Allen Banks said when a motorist runs a red light and receives a ticket through the camera program it is not considered a criminal offense, but it is when a motorist receives a citation from a police officer.
Banks gave a presentation to City Council during a workshop meeting Sept. 8, during which he said the department does not have data showing the red light cameras decrease accidents at intersections with the cameras in place.
Banks said the current red light camera ticketing system allows many motorists who receive a ticket to not pay the fine since it is not a criminal offense when received from a red light camera. Banks said for the system to be effective an enforcement mechanism needs to be in place.
"We have 14,000 unpaid violations right now," Banks said. "We have 14,000 people thumbing their nose at the city of Round Rock."
Banks said most of the citations go to vehicles registered outside of Round Rock.
Texas Law does allow for cities and counties to opt into the Scofflaw Centralized Protections program, which would prevent motorists from registering their vehicle if they have an outstanding ticket received from a red light camera. Round Rock is not a part of the program. Council Member Craig Morgan said the city could not join the program unless the county did so.
Round Rock City Manager Laurie Hadley said the programs takes significant staff time to manage. Transportation Director Gary Hudder said the funds his department receives from the program have to be spent on specific projects such as intersection safety improvements. He said the department has accumulated about $175,000 from the program that can be spent on intersection improvements, and most projects along those lines cost about $300,000 to $400,000, he said.
"We've been hard pressed to spend the dollars in what I would consider a significant benefit," Hudder said.
Council Member Frank Leffingwell said he would vote to end the program as soon as possible if put to a vote. Council Member Kris Whitfield said she thinks the city should end the contract as well. Council Member Will Peckham said the program seems to be a hindrance to law enforcement rather than an effective tool for police.
Mayor Alan McGraw said he would like to see a specific plan in place to address intersection safety if the city ended the red light camera program.
"The plan was to change [drivers'] behaviors. It was never supposed to be a revenue generator." McGraw said. "I don't want to say, 'This didn't work, so let's not do anything.'"
Banks said the police department plans to raise residents' awareness about the dangers of running red lights and distracted driving through public service announcements and social media campaigns.
Hadley said city staff will come back to City Council with further recommendations to increase intersection safety in place of the red light cameras.