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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Red light! Green stash!

The City of College Station has issued 3,318 citations for red-light runners generating $248,850 as of April 1 from fines, which are $75 dollars each.
These citations are part of the Cameras Enforcing Red Light Safety. The system has been issuing fines since February 18, an average of 77 fines a day, and Texas A&M students have been the most frequent violators.
American Traffic Solutions, ATS, the vendor that operates and maintains the four red light cameras, reported that of the 3,318 fines generated, 659 of those were mailed to College Station residences.
The other 2,680 were sent to other cities, College Station P.O. Boxes or other addresses. ATS is able to obtain vehicle registration information from the license plate numbers recorded by the red light cameras. Vehicle registration gives the company the red-light-runner’s name, vehicle make and model number and mailing address.
Most of these vehicles do not belong to permanent College Station residents. Students who attend A&M often drive vehicles that are registered in the student’s hometown, sometimes under a parent’s name.
College Station pays ATS $19,000 a month to operate and maintain the four traffic cameras. The remaining money is split equally between the city and the state. The City of College Station first uses its share to pay for the city traffic engineer’s time, court time and police overtime spent processing the fines.
The remaining city money is earmarked for transportation improvements, such as brighter traffic signals, clearer stop-bar markings, and improved traffic signs. State money is not used outside of the College Station area as it is intended for the six hospitals within the region that have unmet trauma care needs.
Troy Rother, city traffic engineer, A&M class of 1997, has a bachelor’s and master’s degree in civil engineering from A&M. He is the spokesman for Cameras Enforcing Red Light Safety.
“Unmet trauma care is a huge problem for our region, and it will continue to get worse until there is some reform of our medical care system,” Rother said.
Hospitals are required by law to treat all patients who come for emergency care, whether they have medical insurance or not. Rother said that College Station Medical Center’s emergency care has a deficit of about $1 million a year and St. Joseph’s Hospital in Bryan has an annual deficit on the order of $3-4 million from treating uninsured patients.
Rother said that the city will consider installing more cameras in June after construction on Texas Avenue is finished. Aggies may see more cameras when they return to College Station this fall on Texas Avenue at Holleman, Harvey, Southwest Parkway and University Drive as well as at the intersections of University at Tarrow and at Highway 6.
Rother said a study that was done in Southern California in which 3 percent of all red light running happened five seconds after the light turned red, and 1.5 percent occurred 15 seconds afterward. Rother said that the number of total accidents are significantly reduced.
“I got a warning before the system was officially ticketing. I was turning right on a red light. I asked them about it and they apparently have a video of me rolling through the light,” said Ben Tiefenthaler, a senior electrical engineering major, who was ticketed in early February.
“I rolled through a red light turning right from Harvey onto George Bush East,” said Bryan Katt, a senior civil engineering major, who was caught by a traffic camera in February. “I was trying to beat the yellow light and didn’t quite make it.”
He said he was shocked when his parents called to tell him that he had received a fine in the mail.
“But it was not a really big deal, I just paid it and moved on,” he said.
Katt said he does not agree with the city’s placement of the cameras, and that they have been unfairly placed in student-frequented areas around A&M and near neighborhoods housing many students.
“Police officers process these tickets in their overtime,” Rother said. “After ATS identifies each violation, the College Station motorcycle police officers review every case to make sure that they are valid.”
Rother said that the system is accurate. Of the 3,318 citations issued, there has been one appeal.
Civil rights groups elsewhere have objected to 24 hour camera monitoring as being invasive. In Germany, complaints were logged against speeding cameras that take pictures from the front of vehicles and posted online. In several instances, men were embarrassed to be shown in pictures with a female passenger who was not their wife, and they objected to these pictures being posted on the Internet as a violation of privacy.
Chris Patton, a senior civil engineering major, said that he wrote a report on red-light cameras as part of his junior level transportation class in 2007. He said the cities in Texas that installed red-light cameras saw a decline in accidents, but in almost every case, the number of minor accidents, especially fender-benders, rose slightly.
“The statistics make sense,” Patton said, “college students are probably the worst drivers in town.”
Rother said that College Station is not budgeting for projected revenue from the red-light cameras because the income is not a given for the future.

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