Skip to comments.City says no photo-foolery
Posted on 09/01/2006 8:58:53 AM PDT by Snickering Hound
As red-light enforcement cameras start taking money shots at 10 city intersections today, police are warning that it's illegal to try and thwart the technology.
Starting today, owners of vehicles the cameras catch running red lights will receive $75 civil fines. The cameras photograph rear license plates, and citations are mailed to registered vehicle owners.
Officials are cautioning drivers not to use clear sprays and license-plate covers advertised as preventing cameras from taking readable images of plate numbers.
"It's against the law," said Executive Assistant Chief of Police Martha Montalvo, who oversees the camera program.
Most of the stealth products create a glossy covering that sellers say causes a glare when hit by the camera's flash.
Pennsylvania-based Phantom Plate Inc. and other manufacturers of the products have gained business as more cities adopt camera technology for traffic enforcement. Phantom Plate's most popular product, PhotoBlocker Spray, and other items are sold mainly on the Internet.
Phantom Plate has seen an increase in sales in Houston and Texas recently, said company spokesman Joe Scott.
As in many other states, Texas makes it a misdemeanor to obscure a license plate, including use of "a coating, covering or protective material that distorts angular visibility or detectability." Another state law makes it a felony to alter a government document or impair its legibility.
Scott acknowledged that Phantom Plate's PhotoShield clear license-plate covers are illegal in Texas. But state law does not prohibit sprays, such as PhotoBlocker, that are invisible to the naked eye and only affect photos, he said.
New York and Illinois passed laws in recent years against PhotoBlocker Spray, Scott said. An attorney in Houston's legal department said the city has no plans for such an ordinance.
American Traffic Solutions Inc., the company that runs the camera system in Houston, says most such products aren't effective including PhotoBlocker Spray, which sells for $29.99.
"It's a waste of money. Just stop on red," said Jim Tuton, CEO of Phoenix-based ATS, which also has camera-enforcement projects in Seattle, New York and Philadelphia.
Scott said his company does not condone red-light violators but wants to protect them from overzealous prosecution. Like other opponents of red-light cameras, he says the program is simply a way for the city and vendor to make money.
Houston's $75 fine is low compared with some other cities that use the technology, Tuton said.
Violators have 45 days after the ticket is issued to pay the fine or request a hearing. Violators who do neither will receive a final warning before a collection agency attempts to collect the debt. The city has no mechanism for penalizing violators who don't pay the fine.
Police can still write tickets misdemeanor criminal citations that carry fines up to $200.
The City Council approved Houston's camera project in 2004, but it was delayed by debate in the state Legislature last year over whether to ban red-light cameras. This year, it was stalled at City Hall for months by rejected contractors who said the vendor-selection process was unfair.
So far, cameras have been installed at 10 intersections, but the goal is to use them at 50 sites. Police are expected to announce the next 10 locations sometime this month.
The list likely will include several intersections that belong to the Texas Department of Transportation. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott recently told the city it's legal to install cameras on TxDOT roads.
City officials project that the program will bring in $6.7 million for the fiscal year ending next June 30.
Of that, about $2.4 million will go to ATS. It also will receive a processing fee for each citation if the number of violators caught daily by each camera exceeds 25. But the per-camera payment is capped at $5,000 a month, to blunt criticism that a per-citation payment structure gives companies incentive to design systems that catch many violators.
Most of the rest of the revenue will go to police overtime necessary because of the department's manpower shortage, said Houston Police Chief Harold Hurtt. About $100,000 will help fund driver education for high school students.
Hurtt expects the program to reduce the number of drivers who run red lights and reduce the number of fatalities and injuries at intersections.
But critics of red-light cameras say the technology causes an increase in rear-end collisions because drivers hit the brakes to avoid a ticket when approaching a yellow light.
"It's going to make the streets more dangerous while taking people's money," said Greg Mauz of the Texas chapter of the National Motorists Association.
The city plans to monitor crash data at cameras sites, Hurtt said.
A 2005 study by the Federal Highway Administration showed that in seven communities where red-light cameras were used, right-angle crashes decreased 24 percent while rear-end crashes increased 15 percent. Right-angle crashes, or T-bone collisions, usually are more severe.
Its not really about public safety, is it.
It's all about the revenue. Nothing else.
And when you have a rear-end crash, they still get you with a ticket for 'failure to reduce speed to avoid an accident' or some such.
Personally I think the most effective spray for these things is 12-gauge
You can't do $*@! in Houston. The city is broke.
Are these cameras run by a division of Reuters?
I'm avoiding the lights altogether and informing the businesses that they will not get my business. Maybe future businesses will protest the city's decision when they are targeted for a get rich quick revenue scheme.
It isn't about safety. The cops would be tackling violent crime if they wanted a safer Houston. The DA won't let you carry a gun in your car as permitted by the state legislature and the city isn't prosecuting carjackers.
Outsourced to Hezbollah....
So much easier to just mail people "contribution requests" at random.
Once they find out these thing are noting raising enough money, they will hire "drive-by media" outlets to photoshop violations. Watch.
The city's finally implemented their "Robin Hood" plan; shakedown the citizenry for new taxes.
Hell we could save MILLIONS if the city would stop hooking up their pals and family with contracts for bogus multimillion dollar computer software.
When enough citizens find the balls to start setting these little robocops on fire, or smashing them to smithereens, and then MAILING the wreckage to the Houston city elders, this crapola will come to a screeching halt.
Yes indeedy, it's all about money, and if their traffic tyranny program costs the city more money than it brings in, it won't last a year if that.
Isn't there something in the Constitution about the right to face your accuser?
Typical - when the left says "rights" they don't mean for other people....
I wonder if these cameras pick up infrared light, just like most common cameras do. If so, you just mount some strong infrared (INVISBLE TO THE NAKED EYE) light source shining from your plate back so it white spots the camera, but is not visible to other motorists/'donut eaters'.
If the license is obscured in the photo how do they know who to come get for breaking the "don't obscure the license plate" law?
I drive a jeep, somehow my plate is always covered with mud. I wonder how that happens.
I wonder if they are shortening the yellows so more people run reds like they did here in the People's Democratic State of Maryland...
which is why they made this a civil fine.
If you have a big business deal you now don't have to wait for red lights because red lights are now optional for rich people.
Late for a flight? just run the lights.
Hot date? just run the lights
Late for curfew? just run the lights
Money equals red lights not for you.
How about using these cameras as target practice?
The simple anwer is to find out if these spray and plates acutally work.
If they work then the proper protest is to put the spray on as many autos as possible.
There must be a reason the city commissioners paniced.
"How about using these cameras as target practice?"
in britain they are mounted on a 2m tall pole.
in the states, they are a good 8m up on the light pole.
the cameras here are also about 2" square as opposed to britains which are about a foot square.
bit tougher here.
"The simple anwer is to find out if these spray and plates acutally work."
I bought a can of this. it works ok with a digital camera with flash when you first do it. but when it gets dusty or dirty and doesnt "reflect" as well, the digital camera pics come out perfectly normal.
but amazingly, even after a wash, the plates on my jeep ALSO seem to be constantly muddy. must be a jeep thing.
It always is. My Dad told me he paid 50¢ for his first drivers license. He bought it at a local store. No drivers test or anything like that. It was simply a way for the state to get some more money.
BTW, My Dad passed several years ago. He was 89 years old. He'd been around this 'ol world for a while and saw a lot of things happen.
I wonder what the city would charge if some activists "tagged" the license plates of a bunch of random cars parked at the curb or in a parking lot with this blocking paint.
And each generation accepts just a little bit more intrusion.
The city had to fight the state to implement this.
That's for rear-view mirrors. :)
They should just spray that stuff on the camera.
If you rear end someone you're following too closely for safety, period. Sure, we almost all do it, at least sometimes, but that's still a fact.
Litigate them out of existence.
No appeasement with the city on this issue. Stop it now before it gets worse.
We have seen this "civil penalty" ala parking ticket revenue system.
I would like to see an increase in state wide referendums which prohibit this.
The city routinely bags meters at night now downtown. In the 1990s they had blocks restricted for "no parking at any time". They later admitted to the Chronicle that they generate more parking fines with meters on those streets.
It is an unhealthy local economy when the city must fund the "necessities" by exploiting the locals. Then again much of what Houston is funding is NOT essential.
And it extends beyond our city limit. We just got 10 FBI agents to help reduce our gang problem since the local cops won't. Some new gangbangers in town from NOLA but also have MS13 moving in.
The problem with that is that these cameras have been shown to have been mounted on lights where the yellow-time is reduced, rigging them against the driver.
And frankly, if I'm approaching an intersection and the light begins to change, my decision about whether to stop is based both on cross-traffic and how close the driver is behind me. If I slam on the brakes and am rear-ended, tossed into the intersection and T-boned, am I any less dead? All to avoid a ticket from meddling big-brother?
This isn't about safety. It's about screwing you down and making you comply, and if you so much as flinch, they're going to take it out of your wallet
I think this is one of those situations where they WANT you to not comply.
Compliance does not equal revenue.
12 Gage, No 5 bird shot. You do not need to aim all that carefully. Just point in the general direction.
For those that do not believe there is ANY improvement in safety:
A study by the Institute of Transportation Engineers who have been setting standards for traffic signals since the 1930's.
Short list. The cameras increase rear-end accidents and reduce right-angle (T-bone) accidents. Because T-bones are generally more severe (and cause more deaths), the overall safety of the intersection increases (slightly fewer accidents, much less severe accidents, less repair costs, fewer medical costs).
No doubt the politicians are NOT doing this for increased safety. But safety is still benefitted.
OH, I agree. OTOH, what are the chances you're going to get rear-ended hard enough to punt you all the way out into the intersection to get t-boned, assuming you have a firm foot on the brakes? If you're already stopped and they slam into you full speed, well then that's not likely the fault of the red light cameras, is it?
So the study suggests it has to be cameras OR no cameras? No other solutions possible? What about increaseing the yellow light by a second or two. If the city was REALLY concerned about accidents, wounldn't that work?
"And the Houston cops are fighting for the ability to continue their dangerous chase policy (that often times ends when the perp crashes into some innocent civilian)."
Yeah, I don't know how a high-speed chase on public roads can be defended as any more responsible than getting into an unnecessary shoot-out in a busy street. Deaths and injuries to innocent bystanders are almost certain. But they don't seem to care about that. OTOH, I can see the other side of the argument, too, that if you don't chase then suspects know that all they need to do to end a chase is elevate speeds to a dangerous level.
Great Minds Think Alike. That thought was running through my head as I read the article.
My vote is for industrious vandals to paint the cameras.
I hear that police put their lives on the line every day. So does anyone who goes out to fill up with gas, goes out for a night's entertainment, or drives to work. All such citizens have been the victims of deadly carjackings and drive by shootings.
We need more peacekeepers and less "law enforcement" tax collectors.
No, you're right.
I think that people fail to appreciate the unintended consequences of nanny-state thinking.
If I'm tooling along toward an intersection and the light changes, I'm going to make a judgement based on a lot of variables whether or not I stop or continue.
I suspect that the first blink of yellow will cause otherwise sensible drivers to slam on the brakes.
Adding another variable (a camera) that jacks up the pressure on my decision making doesn't, IMHO, make the intersection any safer.
Time for some target practice with a scoped .22 rifle.
And if a driver spots you giving money to them, Mayor Bob-White wants you to call 311 to report that driver.
His priorities are screwed.
Especially when a collection agency may be jacking with the timing of lights. What you know from past experience with that light may no longer hold.
So mail the owner a speeding ticket (good enough for red lights, good enough for speeders).
In the event of stolen cars, the stolen vehicle report would invalidate the ticket the owner of the vehicle receives.
I know several people who've been carjacked and there was no attempt to prosecute the people who stole the cars when they were later recovered (with photo IDs of the theives still in the cars). So why chase? To total out the stolen car? Or because of too much caffine and too much exposure to COPS, SWAT and other programs?