Tomball City Council discusses effectiveness of red light cameras

Over the past seven years, drivers in the city of Tomball have accumulated $1.9 million in unpaid red light camera violations. At the May 18 City Council meeting, officials discussed the effectiveness of the city’s red light camera system.

According to a report by the Tomball Police Department, officials installed three red light cameras within city limits in May 2008. Two are located on FM 2920 near Hwy. 249, and one is located on Hwy. 249 and Zion Road. During the past seven years, 72,553 red light violations have been captured on city cameras.

Each red light violation results in a $75 civil citation that is mailed to a vehicle owner. Several other cities in the state collect outstanding fines through the Scofflaw rule, which puts a hold on a driver’s annual vehicle registration renewal until the fine is paid. However, Tomball uses the Omni System for red light camera violators, which places a hold on drivers license renewals.

Unlike annual vehicle registrations, a drivers license can take up to six years to expire, and during that time a driver can choose to ignore a red light camera citation without any immediate consequences, according to Tomball Police Chief Billy Tidwell.

 “It shouldn’t be a character issue as to whether you pay the violation, there should be some consequences,” Tomball City Council member Lori Klein Quinn said. “I recommend that we use the Scofflaw rule to enforce [the violations]. Once word gets out that you won’t be able to get your vehicle registration renewed, people will pay it.”

The revenue the city receives from red light cameras has steadily decreased since 2009 with the exception of a large increase in 2012, which was also the year with the most recorded violations.

While overall violations have decreased since the cameras were installed, the police department report indicated there was an increase in recorded violations last year but a decrease in citation revenue received by the city. Tidwell said this is a sign that drivers are receiving citations but are choosing to ignore them.

“From my perspective, [red light cameras] are about modifying driving behavior,” Tidwell said. “If someone violates the law and there’s no consequence for that, we’ve modified nothing.”

In the May 18 meeting, City Council voted to approve a study that will be carried out by the police department in the coming weeks to compare red light camera use in Tomball with other nearby cities. The study will determine the effectiveness of using the Scofflaw rule versus the Omni System. The findings are expected to be presented to council in late June or early July.
By Wendy Sturges
A Houston native and graduate of St. Edward's University in Austin, Wendy Sturges has worked as a community journalist covering local government, health care, business and development since 2011. She has worked with Community Impact since 2015 as a reporter and editor and moved to Tennessee in 2019.


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