Connecticut lawmaker weigh allowing cameras at traffic signals
Updated 9:38 am, Tuesday, April 19, 2011
When state Sen. Antonietta "Toni" Boucher, R-Wilton, was a child, her mother was almost killed by another driver who ran a red light and crashed into the family's car.
"I remember being ushered into the emergency room to kiss my mother goodbye," Boucher recalled.
Boucher is one of several legislators who say they're hoping to prevent injuries and save lives through a bill allowing municipalities of more than 60,000 residents to install automated cameras to catch and ticket motorists who drive through stop lights.
"Running red lights, it's like a hobby here," said Boucher who, as a member of the Transportation Committee, approved the proposal last month in a 25-11 vote.
The so-called red light camera legislation comes before the General Assembly's Planning and Development Committee Monday and, if passed, will likely also be debated by the Judiciary Committee in the coming weeks.
"I support it," said Sen. Cassano, D-Manchester, who would like the bill amended so smaller towns like those in his district could take advantage of the cameras.
"It's always the innocent guy that gets whacked by somebody flying through" a red light, Cassano said.
But many of Cassano's colleagues are wrestling with a variety of questions. Similar bills died during the 2005-09 legislative sessions, despite the fact the technology has been used for years in New York City.
Connecticut lawmakers are reviewing conflicting reports about the technology provided by the Office of Legislative Research. OLR found nearly two dozen states were employing red light camera systems as of February. But while the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety concluded the cameras saved 159 lives between 2004 and 2008 in 14 cities and could have saved upwards of 815 if used in cities of over 200,000, University of South Florida researchers said they can also cause crashes.
"Does it cause accidents or save lives?" asked Rep. Auden Grogins, D-Bridgeport, a planning committee vice-chairwoman.
There are also worries the cameras are flawed and will be abused to help cash-strapped local governments turn a profit.
"My main worry is municipalities are going to work to balance their books," said Rep. Christopher Perone, D-Norwalk, who voted for the red light camera bill in the Transportation Committee to continue the discussion.
The legislation would require municipalities to impose civil penalties of at least $124, with 70 percent going to local coffers and 30 percent to the state.
"We need to maintain civil order in the cities," said Finch, adding his administration is already considering some locations for the cameras. "If it does (bring in revenue) that's nice, but that's not why I would do it."
Mark Boughton, Danbury's Republican mayor, said, "I guess you could probably save on officers patrolling, but we don't have a burning desire to run around and install traffic cameras everywhere. In some respects, it sounds like it would be more headaches than what it's worth."
The state's Office of Fiscal Analysis estimated municipalities could spend as much as $75,000 to install and maintain one camera, and $40,000 annually to review and issue violations from one camera.
Some legislators would prefer to see the idea piloted in one or two areas, but Cassano argued the cost and complexity of the initiative will limit implementation and allow plenty of time for the Legislature to review the cameras' effectiveness.
Lastly, there are concerns about increased surveillance.
"I don't like the general tone of this `Big Brother' presence," said Rep. David Scribner, R-Brookfield, a ranking Republican on the Transportation Committee who voted against the red light camera bill.
But Pavia noted Stamford already employs cameras to monitor traffic conditions at 40 intersections.
"There has been some controversy over it," he said.
Staff Writer Brian Lockhart can be reached at email@example.com