Texas City Caught Trapping Drivers With Short Yellows

The Newspaper
by The Newspaper

A Texas motorist caught the city of Baytown using short yellows to trap motorists at a photo enforced intersection and of failing to protect sensitive private information. At a press conference yesterday, Byron Schirmbeck and his attorney, Randall Kallinen, announced that the city had agreed to drop a $75 ticket issued on April 12 for making a right-hand turn just 0.2 seconds after the light had turned red at the intersection of West Baker and Garth Roads. The yellow time at this intersection was set at just 3.1 seconds, even though state guidelines indicate that the yellow should have lasted no less than four seconds.


“I informed my councilman and he set up an interview with the police legal advisor and head of the red light camera program,” Schirmbeck told TheNewspaper. “They reluctantly admitted the amber times were too low but don’t admit any wrongdoing or have any explanation.”

Police reviewed the situation and ordered the yellow time at the intersection raised to 4.5 seconds on June 5. At least five other pending tickets will be dismissed, but Schirmbeck believes hundreds of other motorists may have been trapped by the same short yellow and deserve full refunds.

A small change in the length of the yellow warning period can make a significant difference. The vast majority of “violations” caught on camera happen after drivers misjudge the end of the yellow light by less than 0.25 seconds — literally the blink of an eye ( view chart). According to a report by the California State Auditor, nearly 80 percent of that state’s tickets were issued for violations that took place less than one second into the red. By adding an extra 1.4 seconds to the yellow, violations should plunge at the intersection of Baker and Garth by more than 80 percent.

The shortened yellow helped boost violations, allowing American Traffic Solutions (ATS) to issue $222,587 worth of tickets in the month of April alone. Of this amount, ATS took a 55 percent cut, even though Texas law specifically bans per-ticket contract arrangements. Baytown cited a grandfather loophole clause in the law as the reason it has continued the practice.

Baytown has also failed to implement any privacy protections for the sensitive personal information accessed and stored by its vendor, ATS. Schirmbeck showed TheNewspaper documents provided by the city that contained unredacted personal information on every motorist cited by the red light camera program since May 2008. This information included the full bank account and routing numbers of anyone who paid by check.

“That’s a huge problem, in my opinion,” Schirmbeck said.

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  • Kman Kman on Jul 07, 2009

    I second zerofoo's motion. It is quite literally criminal negligence to implement a system that decreases safety and may cause injury or worse. And if we are to believe there is any shred of truth that any of these automated systems are for "safety", two unequivocal rules must be in place: 1. The for-profit company cannot have any ongoing financial relationship beyond the initial sale and contracted maintenance and support (through an SLA) 2. All funds from the newly installed automated system categorically cannot go into a government's general funds. They must, by law, automatically go into a special fund for either road repairs or accident-victim assistance. This removes any monetary motives, at which point I can start to listen to the argument that any of these are "for safety".

  • JOHNNYBGOOD JOHNNYBGOOD on Jul 10, 2009

    Kman if you do not think this is about safety then go to utube and look at the dozens of red light running accidents. Pretty powerful evidence why something was needed. As for tailgating accidents, maybe they need something done about that also and ticket the tailgators. If the red light times are too short for the speeders of Chicago, maybe that will slow them down also.

  • Carson D The automotive equivalent of necrophilia appeals to people who have no redeeming social value.
  • Funky D These cars appeal to such different clienteles that it is completely comparing apples to oranges. I would go for the Mustang, especially in convertible form, but wouldn't mind at all a weekend behind the wheel of a Z.
  • Funky D Take it from an IT professional: ALWAYS have a backup plan! And then have a backup to that plan if possible. And always rehearse the plan every once in awhile.Always keep local copies of your data, or you don't really have a backup. My current company is working on revising our plan now, while we still have the opportunity.
  • 28-Cars-Later [list=1][*]"Nissan is trying to incorporate elements of past Z Cars to create an automotive amalgam. This includes going back to using a twin-turbocharged, 3.0-liter V6 engine. "[/*][*]"Ford has similarly opted to keep around the 5.0-liter V8."[/*][*]"The Ford benefits from having port and direct injection, while the Nissan only uses direct."[/*][/list=1]This isn't even a contest.
  • Lorenzo It's an election year, and Biden will drag down enough democrats without the state going deeper in the budget hole than it is now. Newsom isn't the smartest guy, but he has smart guys to tell him the state is running out of other people's money.
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