SUGAR LAND, Texas—Helwig Van Der Grinten is a man on a mission against red light cameras.
”They’re nothing but revenue-inspired law enforcement,” he says. “They are unfair to the driving public.”
Van Der Grinten’s organization, the Houston Coalition Against Red Light Cameras, is trying to force Sugar Land to let voters decide whether to take down the cameras.
”They turn traffic lights into guessing games, don’t improve traffic safety, and just raise money for the city,” he says.
Van Der Grinten turned in a petition with nearly 3,000 signatures to get the question on the local ballot. But city officials rejected the petition because the paperwork wasn’t done properly.
Now, as a protest, he’s asking drivers to ignore their traffic fines and refuse to pay.
”Red light camera fines are virtually voluntary,” said Van Der Grinten. “If you get a ticket and don’t want to pay, nothing will happen to you.”
Sugar Land spokesman Doug Adolph says technically the city can get credit agencies to go after drivers who don’t pay and put a hold on their vehicle registrations. However, because most people pay up, they haven’t gone after anyone yet.
”The cameras save lives and we have the data to support that,” said Adolph. “We’ve seen a 58-percent reduction in accidents and we found that in 90 percent of the situations where people receive a red light citation, they never receive a second one.”
Adolph says the cameras also free up police to respond to crime and other matters besides red light enforcement.
Sugar Land will have a task force review the camera issue and decide if the cameras ought to be taken down. The city says it can cancel the contract with the camera’s installer with just 30 days notice.
Meanwhile - Van Der Grinten took his message to a busy Sugar Land intersection. He even hired a few girls from a popular wing restaurant to hold signs to get the attention of drivers.
However, what seems to get most people’s attention is the $75 fine for red light violators.
”I got 4 tickets in one day,” said Sugar Land resident Butch Mendoza. “I don’t like them.”
Opponents hope people like Mendoza are able to vote on the future of red light cameras in Sugar Land.
”It’s democracy in action,” said Van Der Grinten.