Some cities around the state are ready to rely on automated traffic enforcement to help keep their streets safer.
Lawmakers approved allowing municipalities to use red light and speed cameras as part of a package of roadway safety policies that awaits Gov. Ned Lamont’s signature.
Connecticut Conference of Municipalities Advocacy Manager Randy Collins said the organization has been pushing for roughly a decade to be able to use the technology, but a spike in pedestrian deaths and other traffic dangers helped build support.
“The incidents were continuing to rise and, you know, the idea of just mass traffic stops by police wasn’t something that, I think, was particularly palatable,” Collins said.
The policies were recommendations from the Vision Zero Council, a multiagency panel led by the Department of Transportation.
Municipalities would still need approval from the state DOT before installing cameras, and the bill spells out a timeline that wouldn’t allow that until at least 2026. A handful of mayors have already voiced their hope to install the technology.
“Too many people have been killed or injured by reckless driving, and this bill will make our streets safer for everyone,” Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin said in a statement.
Bronin was one of four mayors who testified in support of the bill this past spring, with officials from Stamford, West Hartford and New Haven also offering support.
“After many years of advocacy, it is heartening to see the work of so many safe streets advocates finally get across the finish line,” New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker said in a statement.
Spokespersons for Waterbury and Bridgeport did not respond to requests for comment.
Collins said he expects many suburbs will also consider, if not support, applying to the DOT. The bill would require the DOT to provide guidance by Jan. 1 on the criteria it will consider for installing red light cameras.
This will include how cities and towns will ensure their plans are equitable, and that cameras will not disproportionately impact on racial, ethnic or socioeconomic groups. Municipalities also need to provide data on accidents caused by speeding or ignoring traffic signals, and the efforts used to crackdown through policing.
Collins said smaller towns likely won’t have enough data to support an application and will need to find other measures to improve safety, like redesigning roads or installing traffic circles.
“There are options that are in place for smaller towns and more rural communities,” he said.
Cities and towns wouldn’t be able to apply for approval until 2026, when the DOT is required to provide guidance on how officials can evaluate whether cameras are effective.
The DOT is currently in the middle of its own study, one Collins hopes will build support for local use of automated enforcement.
DOT spokesman Josh Morgan said the agency has issued 1,200 warnings as part of a test of speed cameras in construction work zones.
The DOT has had cameras at five work zones over the last two months, including Norwalk, East Lyme and East Haven currently.
The department sends a warning to owners of vehicles caught traveling more than 15 mph over the posted limit through work zones — typically between 45 mph and 55 mph —, followed by a ticket for each additional offense.
Citations are $75 for the first offense and $150 for each additional violation. So far, the DOT has not had to issue a ticket.
“In our mind that is a good thing, because hopefully the people that got the warning won’t do it again,” Morgan said.
Morgan was concerned, though, that roughly 20 percent of drivers were clocked speeding but not going fast enough to trigger a violation. He said that amounts to about 98,000 vehicles over the two months. The DOT is required to notify the public where it’s using cameras, including posting the information online.
“That’s the name of the game here, to change driver behavior,” he said, adding the intent is not to generate revenue.
According to the DOT, there were 3,674 crashes in Connecticut work zones between 2019 and 2022. Of those, 13 resulted in fatalities and another 37 resulted in serious injuries.
Morgan is optimistic the DOT’s pilot program will show benefits before it expires at the end of the year. The DOT is required to report its findings to the legislature, and Morgan expects the department will want to expand usage of the technology.
He also said some of the same features, including public notification, will likely be required when cities and towns use automated traffic enforcement.
A municipality has to hold public hearings and its top legislative body must approve an application. They will also be required to post signs whenever cameras are used.
Morgan said the purpose of the technology is to prevent accidents from happening, not to catch drivers by surprise.
“If you’re not speeding, you’re getting a hand out of the window with a finger pointed at you or a horn honked at you,” he said.