Fort Worth touts benefits of red light cams

FORT WORTH — Zip by, and you may miss them.

But they won't miss you.

"I'd just gotten off work," recalled Fort Worth resident Natalie Vrtiska. "It was like one o'clock in the morning driving home, and I apparently ran a red light that I was not aware of."

Just like that — at the intersection of Henderson and Belknap — Vrtiska was snapped in the act. Red light cameras caught her and nearly 200,000 drivers at 57 intersections in Fort Worth last year alone. The cameras have been perched at the city's most dangerous intersections since 2007.

"It begins and ends with public safety, trying to change driver behavior," explained Alonzo Linan, assistant director of the city's Department of Transportation and Public Works.

It's a tough time and climate right now to be a red light camera defender, but Linan continues to be one for the City of Fort Worth. From Arlington to Austin, there are big pushes to shut the automated ticket systems down.

"We Texans are independent people, we don't like what we perceive to be government interference," said Barbara Kirby, an attorney and legal professor at Texas Wesleyan University in Fort Worth. She said camera opponents call them an invasion of privacy and a money grab.

Despite those claims, the City of Fort Worth continues to tout and support its program.

"We are gathering less tickets per camera per month every month a camera's in place," Linan said.

Numbers WFAA obtained reveal that is true at some of the city's most dangerous intersections. At Interstate 35W and Rosedale — the most ticketed spot in town over the past five years — tickets fell from 14,632 in fiscal year 2010 to 6,294 in the last fiscal year. That's a plunge of more than 50 percent.

Same for Ashland and the Interstate 30 service road, just east of Hulen — the second most-ticketed spot. That intersection saw 13,455 tickets in the 2009 fiscal year, and 5,145 last fiscal year.

"If citations go down, then we would also extrapolate that crash rates also go down," Linan said, adding that crash rates are going down at all of those intersections.

From a public safety standpoint, Kirby said it's working.

"Red light cameras have brought about exactly what law enforcement wants, which is to give people a mentality of change — that I need to slow down at the yellow light instead of speed up and go through," the professor said.

But if lawmakers in Austin decide this legislative session that the cameras need to go away, that means the millions of dollars generated by the red light camera tickets will also go away. Fort Worth is already discussing where they'd find the replacement funding to continue certain safety improvements that rely on ticket funds.

Natalie Vrtiska, who was none too happy to pay that $75 fine when she was caught by the camera, wouldn't mind if the cameras were taken down.

At the same time, she says they have indeed made her a safer driver.

"Lets just say I haven't gotten one since then," she said with a laugh.


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