In an unanimous decision in Garcia v. City of Willis #17-0713, the high court dismissed a lawsuit Friday that would have eliminated the widely despised red light cameras in Texas. The plaintiff had filed a class action lawsuit to declare they were unconstitutional and sought to obtain a refund of the millions of dollars of fines Texas motorists have paid.
On procedural grounds, the Supreme Court found the plaintiff lacked standing, chose to pay his fine and avoid the required administrative hearing, and governmental immunity barred the reimbursement claim.
The decision follows other attempts to outlaw the cameras. For example, in February the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago called a similar argument “a dud” and noted that the advantages of the cameras outweighed other concerns.
Red light cameras: pros and cons
They are certainly controversial. Law enforcement officials testified in favor of them at the Texas Legislature in session. The police chief of a San Antonio suburb told lawmakers that serious injuries in his town had decreased by 50 percent after they were installed. Officials in Fort Worth reported that injuries have decreased by 43% at intersections monitored by the cameras. Proponents also point out that they allow often understaffed police departments to perform more important police work and that the fines generate millions of dollars for emergency medical care and improvements to public safety and roads.
But others have vehemently opposed them. They claim drivers slam on their brakes at the last minute and cause rear end collisions, the cameras are solely designed to raise revenue for the state and cities, and they infringe upon drivers’ constitutional due process rights to confront their accusers in court.
Will the Texas Legislature outlaw red light cameras?
For people disappointed in the Supreme Court’s decision, there are two bills that would eliminate them that are pending before the state legislature. They have the support of Governor Abbott and a majority of state representatives.
The legislature has only a few weeks to pass HB1631 in the House of Representatives and its companion SB-653 in the Senate. The last day for lawmakers to meet is on May 27th and there are procedural deadlines before then.
Why we need these cameras
In a routine news article, on Thursday night near DFW Airport a man ran a red light and died after he crashed into an 18-wheeler.
The failure to yield the right of way is one of the primary reasons that car and truck wrecks happen. There were a shocking 65,000 car wrecks caused by a driver failing to stop at a red light/stop sign last year in Texas, close to 200 a day. You know that thousands of others were avoided because people were afraid of getting a ticket and came to a stop.
Yes, there is no denying that the red light cameras have problems. A paralegal just told me she is made because she got a ticket over the weekend because she did not stop behind the white line. Other people are angry because they say that they did stop, that they were not even driving the car, or the owner of the vehicle gets mad because he gets the fine in the mail.
But we personal injury lawyers represent way too many people injured in these wrecks and wonder how anyone can be against the cameras if they prevent just one crash.
So as you approach a green light, be prepared to slow down if it turns to yellow. Don’t run a red light. The life you save may be your own.
UPDATE 5/17/19 – The Texas Senate approved the bill that outlaws red light cameras and it is being sent to the governor for signing. However cities that have cameras can keep them in place until their contracts expire. Fort Worth has a contract that terminates in 2026.