In Texas, a person who receives a red light camera ticket can fight the ticket by not paying it. As of June 2, 2019, county and city agencies may no longer install or operate red light cameras.
Municipalities that have contracts with third-party operators are allowed to continue running the cameras until their contracts with the third-party operators expires. Municipalities cannot renew those contracts. Drivers issued these traffic tickets do not have to pay them even if a collection agency registered with a city sends the driver a collection letter.
Why Traffic Cameras Still Exist
A municipality under contract with a third-party operator may be required to serve out the term of its contract. A city that turns off, otherwise inactivates, or removes the red light cameras could be penalized by the court for failing to abide by the contract.
Yet the city cannot hold the vehicle registration of a driver who does not pay their ticket. As of 2021, Humble, Amarillo, Leon Valley and Balcones Heights were the only Texas cities with operating traffic cameras.
The law that changed the rules on red light cameras in Texas was House Bill 1631. This law allowed cities and counties with ordinances enacted before May 7, 2019 with contracts regarding red light cameras to continue to operate the systems under Chapter 707 of the Texas Transportation Code. The municipalities can operate the cameras until the expiration dates specified in the contracts.
Penalties for Red Light Violations in Texas
A law enforcement officer, such as a police officer or a sheriff’s deputy, may observe a driver running a red light and issue a citation to that driver for the infraction. Texas Transportation Code Section 544.007(d) prohibits running a red light, and the offense is a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by a fine up to $500. The amount of the fine varies according to city or county.
In Harris County, home to the city of Houston, the fine for running a red light is $155. In the city of San Antonio, the fines for disregarding a red light, failing to stop at a red light before a right turn, and turning on red when there is a sign forbidding a right on red are $232, per offense. Typically, a driver must make a full stop before turning right on red.
Turning right while a traffic light is displaying a steady red signal is legal except when a city- or county-posted sign forbids it. The authority for the city or county’s power can be found in Texas Transportation Code Section 544.007(f). The city or county must post a sign at the intersection stating the right turn on red is prohibited.
Moving Traffic Violations Under Texas State Law
A moving violation is a violation of a traffic law that occurs while a vehicle is in motion. It is distinguished from a parking violation, which occurs when a vehicle is parked. According to Texas Administrative Code Section 37 Rule 15.89, failing to yield when turning right on a red signal and running a red light are moving violations.
According to the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS), a person’s driver's license may be suspended if they are convicted of four or more moving traffic violations within a 12-month period or seven or more moving traffic violations within a 24-month period. A person typically commits a Class C misdemeanor by driving on a suspended or revoked license.
If DPS suspends or revokes a person’s driver license, it will notify them by mail at the address on record for their driver's license. The notification provides the driver with the reason for the withdrawal of driving privilege. It also tells them if they have the option of requesting a hearing to contest the withdrawal.
Requesting a Hearing on License Revocation
A person may request a hearing on their suspension or revocation up to 20 days after the date of the notice of suspension or revocation. They should allow up to 120 days for the hearing to be scheduled. DPS will notify the person by mail of the date, time and location of the hearing.
If the person makes their request after the 20 allowable days, DPS will deny the request by mail. If the person has already been through the administrative hearing process, and the decision resulted in the suspension of their driver's license, they may be eligible to appeal.
If DPS renews or reissues the driver's license, the person must pay all required reinstatement fees.
Apply for Occupational Driver's License
A person may be eligible to apply for an occupational driver's license while their license is suspended or revoked. An occupational driver's license, also called an essential need license, is a type of restricted license that allows the person to drive to work or to perform essential household duties like grocery shopping, or school-related activities.
The person can request this license by petitioning the Justice of the Peace, the county or district court where they currently live, or the court that heard the case regarding their suspension or revocation. There is no standard petition form.
Submitting the Occupational License Court Order
After the court reviews the person’s petition, it determines whether they are eligible to apply for an occupational driver's license. The court will then provide the person with a signed court order, but this order is not the license. The person must submit the court order to DPS with a number of other required items to receive their occupational driver's license.
The court order can be used as a driver's license for 45 days from the date of the judge’s signature while DPS processes the person’s request.
Statute of Limitations on Debt
Texas has a four-year statute of limitations on failure to repay a debt. This means that a creditor may not file a civil lawsuit against a debtor for failure to repay a debt after four years from the day the cause of action begins. If a ticket was valid, this would likely be the day that the ticket was issued.
The creditor can still contact the debtor and try to get them to pay the debt. If a creditor sends a bill for a red light camera ticket to a collections agency, the person in whose name the ticket has been issued should send the creditor and collections a letter contesting the bill.
They should also inform credit reporting agencies that there is a dispute about the bill and drivers cannot be held responsible for debts resulting from red light camera tickets.
- Texas Department of Transportation: Red Light Cameras on State Highways
- Texas Transportation Code: Title 7 Vehicles and Traffic, Chapter 707 Photographic Traffic Signal
- KHOU 11: Verify, If You Get a Red Light Camera Ticket in Texas, You Do Not Have to Pay It
- Texas Transportation Code: Title 7 Vehicles and Traffic, Chapter 544 Traffic Signs, Signals, and Markings
- Texas Penal Code: Title 3, Punishments, Chapter 12, Punishments
- Harris County Justice Courts: Information About Traffic Cases
- City of San Antonio: Complete Fine Schedule
- Texas Administrative Code: Title 37 Public Safety and Corrections, Chapter 15 Driver License Rules, Rule 15.89 Moving Violations
- Texas Department of Public Safety: Traffic Offenses
- Texas Transportation Code: Title 7 Vehicles and Traffic, Chapter 521 Driver's Licenses and Certificates
- Texas Civil Practices and Remedies Code: Title 2 Trial, Judgment and Appeal, Chapter 16 Limitations
- Texas Department of Public Safety: Occupational Driver License
- Red light camera penalties and procedures are set by the city government, and they vary from place to place. Always double-check to see what your city's specific procedures are; these will most likely be listed on the back of the ticket.
- Do everything in writing.
- In most cases, you mail your forms to an office in your city. Under some circumstances, however, you may be asked to submit a form to a processing center in another state.
- Don't ignore the ticket if you think you were not at fault. You must still respond by the deadline or face penalties.
Jessica Zimmer is a journalist and attorney based in northern California. She has practiced in a wide variety of fields, including criminal defense, property law, immigration, employment law, and family law.