Monday, September 16, 2019
Kelsey Dozier Chief Reporter (2019 – 2020)
Red-light cameras have been used since 2007 in cities across Texas to ensure compliance with traffic safety laws. This article explains why Texas cities can no longer issue citations using these cameras, even though the Texas Supreme Court has not ruled their use unconstitutional.
In December 2014, Mr. Russel Bowman was informed that he would be unable to renew the registration on his car because of an unpaid ticket. After contacting the City of Richardson, he learned that he was issued a citation for entering an intersection when the traffic signal was red—a fine of $75.00 with an additional $25.00 late fee. The offense occurred in November 2012; over two years before he even knew about it. Mr. Bowman was never stopped by a police officer for the offense. Rather, the citation was issued as a result of a red-light camera—no human interaction was required.¹
The beginning of Mr. Bowman’s story is not unique, as most people are familiar with tickets being issued in circumstances such as these. Unlike most people, however, Mr. Bowman filed a lawsuit questioning the constitutionality of the City of Richardson’s use of red-light cameras. In short, Mr. Bowman filed a lawsuit asking the court if the City was allowed to use red-light cameras to catch drivers entering an intersection when the traffic signal is red without relying on police officers to observe the behavior and issue citations.
While Mr. Bowman’s case was pending in the Texas Supreme Court, the Texas Legislature passed a law that changed the game: it outlawed the use of red-light cameras beginning June 2, 2019.
In the past, Texas law allowed the use of red-light cameras. In 2007, the Texas Legislature authorized the use of red-light cameras.² Essentially, this law allowed city governments to hire a private contractor to install cameras on traffic signals that monitor compliance with traffic laws. The private contractor reported this information to local governments, who then issued traffic tickets as appropriate. Typically, these tickets were for things such as failing to make a complete stop at a red-light, as in Mr. Bowman’s case.
Are red-light cameras constitutional? It varies by state. Other state courts have considered many issues regarding the use of these devices, but have largely held that the devices themselves are constitutionally sound, provided the government uses proper procedure in issuing citations.³ Notably, other state supreme courts might consider the constitutionality of red-light cameras, but their decisions don’t dictate the law in Texas. Every state has its own constitution, which may or may not allow for the use of these devices. Put simply, Texas is not required to abide by the laws of other states—only by the laws of the federal government and the U.S. Supreme Court.
In Texas, red-light cameras may be considered constitutional. Mr. Bowman asked the Texas Supreme Court to consider whether tickets issued using red-light camera devices were unconstitutional in Texas, but the Court denied his request for a hearing.⁴ This means that the Texas Supreme Court has yet to issue an opinion regarding the constitutionality of red-light cameras. But lower Texas courts—including those in Mr. Bowman’s case—have consistently held that these devices are constitutional.⁵
Are these devices still legal in Texas? No. Regardless of whether these devices are constitutional, the Texas Legislature repealed the law that allowed for the use of red-light cameras, which means that local governments are no longer allowed to use them.⁶ This new rule became effective on June 2, 2019.⁷
Can these devices ever be used again in Texas? Possibly, yes. The Texas Legislature allowed the use of these devices in 2007, and changed the law in 2019 to prohibit the use of these devices. It can do so again, as long as these devices are not deemed unconstitutional by the Texas Supreme Court.
Sources ¹ City of Richardson v. Bowman, 555 S.W.3d 676 – 677 (Tex. App.—Dallas 2018, pet. denied). ² An Act of June 15, 2007, 80th Leg., R.S. ch. 1149, § 1, sec. 707.001, 2007 Tex. Gen. Law 1119, repealed by Act of June 2, 2019, 86th Leg., R.S., ch. 372, § 6(3), 2019 Tex. Gen. Law 1631. ³ Freely available here: https://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth155602/m1/1/ ⁴ Jimenez v. State, 246 So. 3d 219, 229 (Fla. 2018), reh'g denied. ⁵ City of Richardson v. Bowman, 555 S.W.3d 670, 697 (Tex. App.—Dallas 2018, pet. denied). ⁶ Id. ⁷ Act of June 2, 2019, 86th Leg., R.S., ch. 372, § 6(3), 2019 Tex. Gen. Law (codified at Tex. Transp. Code § 707.020). Available: https://legiscan.com/TX/text/HB1631/id/2021189/Texas-2019-HB1631-Enrolled.html ⁸ Id.