The Office of State Senator Kevin Witkos
Last week, the General Assembly’s Transportation Committee held a public hearing to gather input from members of the public, lawmakers, lobbyists and other interested parties on its final bills that will be considered during this year’s legislative session. Among the many bills that were discussed, I submitted testimony in opposition to one that would allow red light cameras to be installed and used to monitor intersections and issue fines to those who run red lights. At a time when red light camera laws are being repealed or defeated by popular referendum throughout our nation, why is Connecticut moving in the opposite direction?
Officially, the bill is called H.B. 5458, An Act Concerning Municipal Automated Traffic Enforcement Safety Devices At Certain Intersections. Like many of the bills that are proposed each year, this one may not be fully understood by simply reading its title. While an “automated traffic enforcement safety device” might sound like a useful tool, it is really just a nicer way of saying “red light camera.” After studying this issue for some time, I will share three of my concerns with you here, including the intense lobbying effort, matters of safety versus revenue, and the system of issuing fines.
First, I am concerned over the large amount of dollars that has been spent lobbying in favor of this legislation. In 2011 alone, red light camera vendor American Traffic Solutions (ATS) spent approximately $84,000 to lobby in support of automated enforcement in our state. However, we also must keep in mind this company’s close relationship with the non-profit advocacy organization called the National Coalition for Safer Roads (NCSR), which has been pushing for this change in law in recent years. When you look at the funding, ATS has long had close financial and personnel relations with NCSR. In fact, ATS provided start up funding to NCSR and continues to do so. Many ATS executives also serve on the board of directors for the NCSR. The next time this group issues a study or report in favor of red light cameras, we should remember these facts.
As a police officer, I am dedicated to improving the safety of drivers, pedestrians and anyone who might find themselves near traffic. However, I believe the push to pass this legislation is not based on improving safety but rather increasing revenue for ailing municipal budgets. I am concerned that these cameras would be used not where most of the accidents occur but rather where there is the most traffic – and the greatest opportunity to gain revenue.
When the city of Chicago began operating red light cameras, some controversial issues came up. For example, the length of a yellow light depends on where you drive. Suburban Chicago has yellow lights that last 4.5 seconds, but urban Chicago has yellow lights lasting 3 seconds, the bare minimum under federal safety guidelines. This small shift makes it harder for drivers to stop in time and results in a higher number of tickets being issued. In addition, one highly traveled intersection brought in over $1 million during the length of one year. However, 98% of these tickets were issued to those who did not allegedly come to a complete stop before turning right on red. These examples show how manipulation can affect everyday drivers in a negative manner.
In Connecticut, a red light camera would take a photo of someone running a red light, capturing an image of the license plate, determining an address, and then mailing a ticket for $50. It would not carry the same weight and affect on your license as a normal ticket written by a police officer, but it could be contested it in court. Questions remain as to who would have to show up as well, whether it would be a company technician or police officer. The vehicle’s owner is also responsible for paying the fine. If your employee, friend or child is using the vehicle and drives through a red light at a monitored intersection, the ticket would be mailed for you to pay.
In the next month or two, this bill will see a final vote on the floor of the House of Representatives. I believe there is a high likelihood that it will eventually pass, at least as a pilot program for some of the larger cities of the state. The issues that I have shared are valid concerns that should be considered before moving forward with this proposal. There are simply too many questions and too many concerns regarding red light cameras to support this bill. Evidence has shown that the best way to change driving habits is through direct patrols and enforcement. If you would like to learn more about this issue, please visit my website at www.SenatorWitkos.com where you can watch me discuss my thoughts in a video update.
Sen. Witkos (www.SenatorWitkos.com) represents the 8th Senate District, including the communities of Avon, Barkhamsted, Canton, Colebrook, Granby, Hartland, Harwinton, New Hartford, Norfolk, Simsbury and Torrington. He can be reached by phone at 1-800-842-1421 or by email at Kevin.Witkos@cga.ct.gov.