Lawmakers and local officials claim their desire to allow municipalities to install red light cameras at intersections is all about safety. A banner they hung behind them at a Capitol press conference Thursday gave a different message.
The giant backdrop to the press conference was paid for by the National Coalition for Safer Roads, a group which is in part funded by a company that installs these cameras. After the lengthy press conference a Capitol insider observed that if the lobbyists stay at arm’s length this year the bill, which has yet to be drafted, has a chance of passing.
The bill, which has yet to be drafted, would allow communities with populations over 48,000 to install red light cameras a handful of intersections. New Haven in particular has been pushing hard for its passage.
“It’s not about revenues, it’s about saving lives,” Rep. Tony Guerrera, D-Rocky Hill, said.
He said the company, American Traffic Solutions, which is the largest vendor of these red light cameras, have the right to recoup their costs, but “as legislators in this building we have not looked at it in that sense.”
“We’re not trying to look at it as a profit here, as a business. We’re trying to say that this is about saving lives,” Guerrera said. “Unfortunately these cameras cost money, and it costs them money to run it.”
He said the legislation will be looking at creating a flat fee to reimburse the vendor for installing the cameras, which cost between $75,000 to $100,000 per camera. But he said that’s an issue that’s up for debate and will be decided after the public hearing process.
Guerrera, who co-chairs the Transportation Committee, said the committee is looking at placing a $50 to $75 fine on violators who run red lights.
So if it’s not about revenue why levy a fine at all?
“A warning that carries no other consequences will probably be thrown in the trash,” Sen. Majority Leader Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said. “The reality is this is about deterrents.”
He said the idea of the cameras is to encourage better behavior amongst drivers.
“The presence of these cameras will effect good behavior,” Looney said. “I’m sure over time there will be declining revenues from the cameras as it becomes known they are in place.”
Guerrera said they want to keep the fine down to something similar to a parking fine. It will not be the type of moving violation that requires a court appearance, Looney said.
The tickets could be appealed at the municipal level and the violation would be viewed by a police officer.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has said he supports the use of this technology.
Malloy said in January that he’s not “particularly tied to what the penalty is” but believes the technology available in red light cameras will help change behaviors.
He doesn’t know exactly how the legislation will be framed, but he said in order to overcome some of the objections to them, the tickets issued using the technology may not carry points or would come with a lesser fine.
“I do not believe we should be fighting bad behavior with one arm tied behind our backs, so availing ourselves of technologies that will help us ultimately correct those behaviors is highly appropriate,” Malloy said.
Last year the bill called for a pilot to be established in communities with populations over 60,000. This year the bill will allow for smaller communities to participate in the program too.
Hamden Mayor Scott Jackson said he heard a lot about red light cameras during his last campaign.
“Residents from every neighborhood said you’ve got to do something about traffic,” he said. What residents told him was: “It’s dangerous to us, it’s dangerous to our families, it’s dangerous to our communities, and it’s dangerous to my business.”
He said residents are now meeting on a monthly basis to talk about traffic calming solutions. He said having red light cameras is just one more tool he can add to that kit.
He said with 240 miles of road, 85 signalized intersections, and 106 sworn police officers, it’s impossible for the town to police every intersection all the time.
The New Haven community has been leading the fight for red light cameras for years.
New Haven Alderman Justin Elicker, frustrated at the questions he was hearing from the media about revenues, reiterated that it’s all about safety.
“We need a deterrent. The deterrent is financial and the distraction that this is about making money for a business or making money for our cities is unfortunate,” Elicker said. “This is about making our neighborhoods safe.”
This year, New Haven is being joined by Hartford in its push for the cameras.
Angel Arce whose father Angel Arce Torres was run over on Park Street in 2008 said it was cameras in the area which helped catch the man that paralyzed his father. Torres died a year later from his injuries. The incident made national news when the video was released, which showed none of the onlookers willing to help him immediately after he was hit.
He said he supports red light cameras because he believes it will help change the behavior of drivers.