Tragic Accident Breaks Open Debate About Austin’s Traffic Cameras

A recent Austin motor vehicle accident has sparked debate regarding the use of traffic cameras throughout the city. The truck accident resulted in serious injuries for the victim, but the specific details about what happened are sketchy even though it all transpired under the watchful eye of a traffic camera.

Contrary to popular belief, the 225 traffic cameras throughout the city of Austin, Texas, do not have recording capabilities. Rather, they were designed to monitor traffic flow and dangerous situations while helping emergency responders arrive at accident scenes more efficiently. Only the nine red-light cameras at problem intersections can record, but they are activated only after a red light has been run.

However, after the accident, some citizens, law enforcement officers and elected officials are raising the question: should traffic cameras be recording at all times? It is an issue that is proving controversial as all the factors are being discussed.

Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell supports the idea of recording cameras, but he believes they should be located in only high-crime areas. He also questions how the capital expense necessary to purchase the equipment would be handled as well as how civil liberties concerns would be addressed.

Though seeing potential benefits, the leaders at the Texas Civil Rights Project have concerns about invasion of privacy. "It has to be very tightly restricted," says Jim Harrington, head of the Project. "There has to be a protocol that the tapes would be erased fairly quickly like within the day to protect against the 'Big Brother' component that we're always watching out for."

The police chief, Art Acevedo, has placed recording-capable public safety cameras in troubled neighborhoods; however, he is reticent to have similar cameras installed citywide. He would prefer to garner public support by demonstrating how the cameras have benefited specific neighborhoods before pushing for a broad implementation. There are no immediate plans to begin recording, but the issue remains under consideration.