Connecticut lawmakers again consider automated traffic enforcement cameras

At a hearing on Monday, critics claimed cameras disproportionately penalize minority and low-income drivers.

John Craven

Jan 30, 2023, 10:11 PM

Updated 501 days ago


For the first time ever, Connecticut communities could install automated enforcement cameras under a bill aimed at lowering surging traffic deaths. But at a hearing on Monday, critics – who have defeated the idea before – claimed cameras disproportionately penalize minority and low-income drivers.
One thing everyone agrees on: Connecticut’s roads are getting more dangerous. Deaths have jumped more than 40% over the past five years, according to the Connecticut Department of Transportation.
Ethan Rodriguez-Torrent of New Haven told lawmakers that several of his friends were hit by cars.
"One of these people was seriously injured and spent months in the hospital in rehab,” he said. “One of them died after being hit head-on by a driver who crossed the center line."
Automated cameras are one of several recommendations from the state Vision Zero Council. Under its proposed legislation, drivers would get a ticket in the mail if a camera clocks them going at least 10 mph over the speed limit. Drivers would have advance warning; each camera would have a warning sign 100 feet ahead.
The first offense would cost up to $50, with subsequent violations netting up to $75.
Critics called cameras a cash grab.
"The devices should be out of the question for those who embrace an equity agenda. ProPublica and others have demonstrated that such cameras have racially disparate impact,” said Carole Platt Liebau, president of the Yankee Institute, a conservative policy group. "Studies also indicate that the cameras can increase the number of and severity of traffic accidents."
Those concerns led to the defeat of a similar proposal in 2021. Instead, legislators approved a pilot program in state highway work zones.
At the time, even the head of the Connecticut State Police Union urged lawmakers to reject the idea.
"This bill proposes the use of speed cameras to replace state troopers on limited access highways," CSPU executive director Andrew Matthews testified in 2021. "[It] does not allow for the accused to have the right to cross-examine their accuser."
Under this year’s legislation, each ticket would undergo an independent review by law enforcement or a private vendor before going out.
Still, some inner-city Democrats remain on the fence.
"It has always gone off the rails because of opposition, in many cases, by urban legislators who believe that it would be a mechanism that's targeted at lower-income urban residents,” said Connecticut Senate President Martin Looney (D-New Haven).
But this year, with so many deadly pedestrian accidents, safety advocates believe public opinion is shifting.
"The number of times I've seen cars run right lights, the number of times I've seen cars make illegal left turns, is just insane,” said Aishwarya Pillai of New Haven.
Automated speeding and red-light cameras are common in New York City and Washington, D.C. But New Jersey ended a five-year pilot program for red-light cameras in 2014. A similar program in Nassau County, New York, lasted only six months.
Under the latest proposal, new DOT Commissioner Garrett Eucalitto said cameras would only be allowed in school zones or designated "pedestrian safety zones."
"The red-light cameras – limiting them to places where there is a history of crashes,” he said. “It's not just, 'Put them wherever you want.'"
This bill leaves some questions unanswered, including whether an automatic traffic ticket would mean points that count against your auto insurance. In most states, they don't.
The "Vision Zero Bill" also includes other ideas that lawmakers have previously defeated, including a ban on passengers from having an open container of alcohol. Only a dozen states still allow it, and the federal government forces them to divert highway construction dollars to educational efforts instead.
Uber, Lyft, livery services and limos would all be exempt.
The bill would also require all motorcyclists to wear a helmet and allow DOT to use eminent domain to seize land for bicycle trails.

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