Is Requiring Clairvoyance Constitutional? Texas Supreme Court November Proceedings on RLCs

From guest writer H. F. Van Der Grinten

This is an eyewitness account of the Texas Supreme Court recent proceedings concerning a lawsuit brought by the residents of the small town of Willis. They are suing their city because they say the red-light cameras (RLCs) are illegal because the city did not first conduct a state-required engineering study before the cams were installed. Many other Texas towns are in the same boat and this ruling could be the end for RLCs in the state. Also, Texas lawmakers, which only meet every two years, will convene in January for their next session and newly reelected governor Greg Abbott campaigned for a ban on RLCs and will be making a push to rid the state of these policing for profit machines. reported this week that the scamera lawmakers are already up to new tricks before the legislature even starts in January. 

I attended the Texas Supreme Court on November 1, 2018 when the red light camera issue was orally argued. For 10 years I have been fighting red-light cameras in Sugarland, Texas and my interests are quite high when it comes to this court case.

The legalese of the discussion was truly mind boggling. The only thing that was clear to me was a question posed by one of the justices at time 07:50. Apparently this justice is of the opinion that red light camera violations are probably either deliberate or the result of unacceptable carelessness. Attorney Bowman tried to correct the biased nature of this question, but the fact was not driven home that these red light cameras punish vehicle owners for allowing many drivers in Texas to be entrapped by a red light camera for inadvertently violating a red light by a fraction of a second.

There are two underlying issues here. The first is why punish the vehicle owner when he or she may not be the offending driver? The second was punishing the inadvertent violation of the red light law by a fraction of a second. Is this technical violation of the red light reasonable? Automated red light camera enforcement does not permit leniency. No allowance is made for the inability of humans to make a precisely correct stop or go decision every time a green traffic light turns yellow. Because the yellow period is loosely defined by the signaling regulations, clairvoyance is required for drivers to know exactly how long the traffic light will remain yellow, whether or not the light will turn red before the vehicle will enter the intersection and what the stopping distance is going to be.

This second question was not addressed during these proceedings, but it is clear that automated enforcement is incapable of taking into account the frailty of human judgement. That is what juries are for and no juries are allowed by the red light camera statutes. Hopefully the Supreme Court will find them unconstitutional. That decision should be rendered within the next six months.

Captain Van Der Grinten is a semi-retired ship master and former Captain in the U.S. Naval Reserve who currently lives in Sugar Land, Texas. He has been actively opposed to RLC enforcement of over 10 years and is the founder of the Houston Coalition Against Red Light Cameras.

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