02/06/2006
Officials consider tool to curb red-light runners
By SARAH MOORE , The Enterprise

BEAUMONT - The Friday before Christmas, a car northbound on Martin Luther King Parkway sped through a red light across Wall Street at about 7:30 p.m.

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As onlookers watched in horror, a westbound bus lumbered into the 1999 Dodge Intrepid, hitting the front end of the small vehicle.

The driver, a 30-year-old man, and his 30-year-old female passenger were taken to Christus St. Elizabeth Hospital. The woman clung to life for a week before succumbing to her injuries.

This is the kind of accident Southeast Texas law enforcement agencies would like to see eradicated, and some, like the Beaumont Police Department, are looking into a tool that could help.

Sgt. Mike Earney has been looking into automated red light enforcement systems on the market. The systems use cameras triggered by vehicles entering intersections after the red light goes on.

Earney's inquiry is in its early stages. He doesn't even know the cost, but he believes that, though everyone might not agree, a system like this would benefit Beaumont drivers.

"It would be a very good idea," Earney said. "We have a lot of people who run red lights."

Beaumont, Orange and Port Arthur still are coping with Hurricane Rita recovery, but police departments are keeping the system on their radar screens.

Port Arthur Deputy Chief Dennis Odom said he hasn't looked into the camera systems, but he likes what he's heard about them and would like to see his city get them.

"It seems like a very useful tool for law enforcement," he said. "People get in a hurry to go nowhere ... Anything that would help, I'm willing to look at."

Port Arthur, like Beaumont and Orange, doesn't track collisions caused by red-light violations separately, but Odom said such wrecks are frequent.

Maj. Mike Broussard of the Orange Police Department said because his city doesn't have very many lighted intersections, it isn't that much of a problem. But generally, he thought the cameras would act as a deterrent.

In Orange for the past three years, citations for running through red lights have remained relatively static in the 52 to 56 range, each year, according to Orange Sgt. Lynn Arceneax.

Texas cities such as Plano and Richardson began using the systems last week, according to a Dallas Morning News story.

These cities have identified the intersections where cameras are placed and are granting a one-month grace period during which drivers will be warned.

After that, the fine for the infraction, which is civil rather than criminal, will be $75.

The ticket is issued to the car's owner, leaving it to him or her to determine who was driving the vehicle at that time and holding that person accountable.

Earney said this is similar to insurance requirements that hold vehicle owners responsible for liability, no matter who is driving.

Because the penalty is civil, the infraction would not show up on drivers' records.

Cynics argue that the systems mainly serve as a source of revenue for cities and will increase rear-end collisions and encroach on drivers' privacy rights, according to the Dallas Morning News story. But cities that use the systems report decreased red-light violations.

According to Garland police, their two-year-old system has resulted in a 21 percent drop in the infractions.

smoore@beaumontenterprise.com
(409) 833-3311, ext. 419