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May 25, 2007, 11:49AMHouston ranks 3rd on speed trap chartWeb site makes special mention of lanes under the Pierce ElevatedBy RAD SALLEECopyright 2007 Houston ChronicleThe top 10 U.S. "speed traps," according to postings on www.speedtrap.org, a Web site maintained by the National Motorists Association:1. Detroit (suburbs)2. Colorado Springs, Colo.3. Houston4. Orlando, Fla.5. Nashville, Tenn.6. Ann Arbor, Mich.7. Albuquerque, N.M.8. Washington, D.C.9. Denver10. Virginia Beach, Va.Residents hitting freeway on-ramps for Memorial Day travel, take note: On the return trip, you might want to slow down on the off-ramp.Houston police run lots of enforcement operations that catch motorists who neglect to adjust for the transition from freeway to frontage road, according to comments gathered by a national group with a live-and-let-live attitude about driving.The National Motorists Association ranked Houston third on its list of the top 10 "speed trap cities" in the U.S.That might not be surprising, since Houston is the nation's fourth-largest city, and the rankings were based on the number of postings on the group's Speed Trap Exchange Web site."On the other hand, there were plenty of other big cities that didn't make the list, so there must be something causing the city to generate so many postings," said association spokesman Aaron Quinn.It's true that the top 10 included Virginia Beach, Va., and Ann Arbor, Mich., but not New York, Los Angeles or Chicago. Or Dallas, for that matter.The much older and larger AAA has a narrower definition, and has designated only two locations nationwide, none in Texas, as "traffic traps."In the AAA's definition, a speed trap is "designed to raise revenue rather than prevent crashes." A separate category, "strict enforcement," is reserved for "high-risk highways and dangerous intersections" with a tough police presence.Most people think of a speed trap as a suburb or rural hamlet that views passing motorists as cash boxes on wheels. Houston police say that isn't their motive."The purpose for any police radar enforcement is to reduce motorists' speed in order to save lives and prevent accidents," Lt. Thomas Jennings said.Mayor Bill White's spokesman Frank Michel was skeptical of the Motorists Association list but not disapproving."The methodology leaves questions in your mind," Michel said, "but to the extent that it gets people to slow down, pay attention and drive safely, that's probably to the good.""On a long weekend like this, enforcement is stepped up," Michel said. "We know there will be a lot more people drinking and driving, and a lot more speeders."But many of the alleged traps listed on the Web page — which describes them in some detail, with commentary — aren't on freeways at all, and aren't likely to catch beach weekenders or travelers just passing through.About half are freeway ramps or overpasses where police set up to catch those who hit the neighborhood street or frontage road a little too hot.Several others are busy arterial streets that pass through an enclave city or residential neighborhood where the enforcement suddenly becomes stricter than in the commercial blocks nearby.Its speed-trap site now includes alleged traps in Canada and other countries.But comments on the site suggest a fairly broad definition of speed trap:Pierce Elevated (Interstate 45) to Dallas and Pierce, downtown: "They hide underneath the freeway and grab people," one comment says."The speed limit is 40, but most cars are likely to be going around 50 after coming off the freeway."firstname.lastname@example.org
A cautionary tale of cameras and carsBy GORDON DICKSONStar-Telegram Staff WriterNorth Richland Hills' first camera went into use June 1; the city is installing another.Archie Wright's car was caught on camera running a red light in Richland Hills this month.But Wright, who got a ticket in the mail at his Watauga home, says the red-light camera system nabbed the wrong person.A video playback clearly shows the '97 Pontiac Grand Am crossing into the intersection of Booth Calloway Road and Glenview Drive after the light turned red. But Wright says he sold the car in May and figures the new owner ran the red light.Six Tarrant County cities have or are considering red-light cameras, and motorists need to learn how to avoid this and other potential problems.If the new owner of Wright's car failed to change the registration, Wright would still be listed as the owner on state records, which would explain how the $75 ticket wound up in his mailbox.Wright spent much of last week trying to clear his name."To me," he said, "it's like a bunch of nerds have taken over law enforcement. These red-light cameras are popping up all over the place. I think people should be aware of just what a hassle it can be to fight one of these things."More and more camerasIn Arlington, North Richland Hills and Richland Hills, camera-initiated tickets are being issued to red-light runners at nine intersections. A tenth camera is being installed in North Richland Hills. Bedford plans to have four cameras, and tickets are scheduled to be issued beginning in the fall. Burleson and Fort Worth are considering red-light camera ordinances.It may not be long before dozens of street corners are guarded by the virtual eyes of the law.Police say car owners can avoid getting a ticket they don't deserve by following simple steps, such as making sure a car's registration is changed immediately upon its sale.Who's responsible?It will be a bit of a mind-set change for many.Moving violations such as speeding and driving while intoxicated are the responsibility of the driver. But red-light violations recorded by cameras are considered a civil offense, like a parking ticket, and are the responsibility of the registered owner. As Wright found out, that is not necessarily the driver. Tickets are issued by companies that contract with the city.Police also suggest not lending your car without first explaining who will be expected to pay for any red-light violations."I think it's incumbent upon vehicle owners to make sure they are taking care of their business," Arlington police spokeswoman Christy Gilfour said.Feeling wrongedMore than 6,600 red-light camera tickets have been issued in Tarrant County since June, police said. Most offenders simply pay up -- failure to do so can eventually hurt your credit -- but at least 22 people have protested their tickets.People in Wright's situation can get out of a ticket by filling out an affidavit saying they no longer own the car, mailing it to the company and providing the name, address and phone number of the new owner, Richland Hills police Cmdr. David Peck said.In all three Tarrant County cities operating red-light cameras, car owners can also take advantage of a one-time exception allowing them to fill out an affidavit saying they were not behind the wheel of their car that day. They are required to provide the driver's name and address.But that's a bit of a problem, Wright said, because he sold the car for cash and didn't ask the buyer to sign a bill of sale. He couldn't readily find the buyer's name and address when he needed it.Wright said he spent much of last week trying to round up the new owner's contact information. He said he found little sympathy at Redflex, the company that manages Richland Hills' camera program."This guy at Redflex told me I needed to either give him a name and address, or pay the ticket, and that was it," Wright said. "I don't think I should have to do all this research on their behalf. What are they being paid for? I signed the affidavit, and that should take care of it."Officials at Redflex's Richland Hills office and at its Scottsdale, Ariz., headquarters did not return calls seeking comment. A supervisor at the company's Irving office declined to comment except to say the company doesn't get involved in disputes over red-light violations, which it says are between the city and the car owner.RED-LIGHT ANSWERSWhat's legal?Red-light camera citations are issued only when a car crosses into the intersection after the light is red. If the light is still yellow when you drive across the first white stripe, or if you get stuck midway through by a slow-turning car, you won't get a ticket.How to protest a ticketFirst, watch your violation on video at the Web address printed on your notification. Type in the provided password. Assess your chances of beating the ticket.If you have a good reason not to pay, request a hearing with the administrative officer appointed by the city to hear red-light camera complaints. The officer's address should be printed on the violation. If you lose, be prepared to pay $50 in fees, in addition to your original fine.How to avoid problemsWhen selling a car, insist that the buyer sign a bill of sale that includes his or her name, address and phone number.Ask the buyer to accompany you to the county tax office and jointly fill out a form to change registration.If the new owner refuses to do so, go to the county tax assessor's office and fill out a Motor Vehicle Transfer Notification form VTR-346.Or write the Texas Department of Transportation, Vehicle Titles and Registration Division, P.O. Box 13175, Austin, TX 78711-3175. Include the year, make and vehicle identification number of the car, date of sale, buyer's name and address and a $5 check payable to TxDOT.Defeating the camerasIt's not hard to obscure a license plate with anything from an oversize frame to a trailer hitch or even a little mud. But if you get pulled over for that, the ticket may be far more expensive than a red-light violation. It also may count against your driving record and insurance rate. It's also illegal to spray the license plate with reflective material.Tickets issuedArlington: 1,824 since the first cameras went online June 12.North Richland Hills: 140 since the camera began working June 1. One protest has been scheduled.Richland Hills: 4,707 since May 1. Twenty-one protests have been heard.Differing resultsProponents: The federal Transportation Research Board reported in 2003 that most cities with red-light cameras saw fewer crashes. In 2005, the Federal Highway Administration studied 132 intersections around the country and found that red-light cameras produced fewer side-impact collisions, which are among the most dangerous crashes, but more rear-end collisions. In Garland, which installed the first red-light cameras in Texas, the average number of red-light runners fell 27 percent a month between 2004 and 2005 at the city's four intersections with cameras.Critics: A study by the Urban Transit Institute at North Carolina A&T State University, which analyzed data from 303 intersections, found that cameras did not produce fewer accidents and may have increased the number of rear-end collisions. A Washington Post study of seven years' worth of data showed that the number of crashes doubled at intersections with cameras between 1998 and 2005, while crashes increased only 67 percent at intersections without cameras.AlternativesA three-year study by the Texas Transportation Institute of 181 intersections found an alternative way to reduce crashes. Adding one second to the time that the traffic light stays yellow decreased the number of red-light violations 53 percent and the number of crashes by 40 percent.Sources: Star-Telegram research; Texas House of Representatives Research OrganizationGordon Dickson, email@example.com
I HAVE to go to Houston in September for a conference, but now I'm really dreading it. I lived there for a couple of years in the mid 1970s, and it was already a mess then and much worse today. Lots of good people HAVE to live in Houston to make a living, but it's tough. But DFW isn't that much better. Seems to me that the quality of live starts to improve greatly as the population density falls.
Quote from: SHANEAWhat if you are in a rental vehicle and blow a red light with a camera? Do they track me down through rent-a-wreck? - or - does the police dept. already have computer access to rent-a-wreck so that they can tell who had the rental car on that date and time?See http://www.houstontx.gov/police/trafficsafety.htm for all the details. It doesn't seem to specifically cover rental cars, but the owner of the car is the one who gets the notice. It's then up to the owner to show someone else was driving. Seeing as how the rental car agency probably has your credit card info, it's probably best not to test the system with a rental.When they first started putting up these cameras, some local bail bondsman was bound and determined to test the legality of them in court. Problem was, he couldn't resist the publicity so he alerted the news media of his intentions. Houston's finest were waiting and wrote him a real ticket, which trumps the civil one you get via the camera system. He supposedly went back when they weren't around and got ticketed. He's supposedly still awaiting his court date. His argument is that since running a red light is a misdemeanor criminal offense, the city is not allowed to make it a civil offense as well. We'll have to wait and see what the courts say, but I'll be amazed if he wins.
What if you are in a rental vehicle and blow a red light with a camera? Do they track me down through rent-a-wreck? - or - does the police dept. already have computer access to rent-a-wreck so that they can tell who had the rental car on that date and time?
A word of advice: they now record video with these cameras, so if you think you can just roll through that stop while making a right turn on red and get away with it....think again. My wife now owes the city $75.
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