Jun 13, 2023

Red light, speed cameras get final approval from CT lawmakers

HARTFORD — Faced with a startling spike in traffic fatalities, state lawmakers on Wednesday gave their final approval on legislation allowing Connecticut municipalities to step up traffic enforcement through the use of automated speed limits and red light cameras.

The bill, which now heads to Gov. Ned Lamont's desk, was born out of recommendations from the state's Vision Zero working group on roadway safety, which itself was formed in 2021 as a reaction to the persistent increases in traffic deaths that Connecticut has seen in each year since the start of the pandemic.

"We are going in the wrong direction," said state Sen. Christine Cohen, D- Madison, who serves as co-chair of the Transportation Committee. "We need to do everything we possibly can to move in the right direction, which is toward Vision Zero."

The 27-9 vote in the Senate followed a similar, bipartisan margins in the House last month. Both votes overcame opposition from a coalition of conservatives, progressives and civil rights groups who questioned the effectiveness of the technology and argued that its roll out in other states has disproportionately ensnared minority drivers.

Existing law in the state allows for only a limited number of automated cameras in place to enforce speed restrictions in highway work zones.

"I never considered myself fearful of technology, but I am concerned about big brother," said state Sen. John Kissel, R- Enfield. "What we’re doing by this bill is giving government yet one more tool to monitor our behavior."

Both the Connecticut chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP lent their voices in opposition to the bill. The National Motorists Association also opposes the use of automated traffic enforcement, noting that cameras are unable to identify the driver and instead send tickets to the registered owner of the vehicle.

Across the country, 23 states allow the use of red light cameras and 18 states allow the use of speed cameras, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Two of Connecticut's neighbors, Rhode Island and New York, allow both.

On the flip side, several states including New Hampshire and Maine have laws expressly prohibiting the use of automated enforcement cameras.

Under the proposed Connecticut law, drivers would have to either run a red light or be clocked going 10 miles per hour faster than the speed limit to receive an automated ticket, which must be issued by the local police department.

In order to address the concerns raised about the potential for targeting certain neighborhoods, lawmakers agreed to require that cities and towns have their plans for installing red light and speed cameras approved by the Connecticut Department of Transportation.

Those plans would automatically sunset after three years, unless DOT reauthorizes the town's use of traffic cameras following a review of the program.

One earlier skeptic on the use of cameras, state Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, said he was satisfied by the guardrails put in place on the bill. The same communities that many fear could be targeted with enforcement, he added, are already plagued by higher rates of crashes and fatalities.

"I don't like the fact that that's happening," Winfield said of the dozens of collisions he said he's seen on the intersection near his house. "I don't like the fact that my kids are used to accidents happening."

Prior to the Vision Zero bill reaching the Senate, lawmakers in the House also agreed to remove provisions mandating the use of motorcycle helmets and outlawing open containers of alcohol in cars. Both of those measures have long been a source of contention between traffic safety advocates and some members of the legislature.

The final package that was approved by the Senate shortly after midnight Wednesday also included language allowing prosecutors to assign safety courses to drivers who content certain infractions, a new public awareness campaign on drug-impaired driving and other recommendations from the working group.