Automated traffic enforcement coming to Connecticut

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Jul. 8—As early as next year, police will not be the only ones out on the state’s roadways issuing tickets for traffic violations.

Automated red light and speeding cameras are on the horizon.

Recently approved legislation gives all of the state’s municipalities the ability to perform automated traffic enforcement, a controversial topic long debated by lawmakers and fought by groups wary of more government surveillance.

The measure passed this year as part of legislation aimed at curbing the rising number of traffic-related deaths in the state. There were 366 traffic deaths in the state in 2022, up from 302 in 2021 and the highest number of fatalities in decades, statistics from the state Department of Transportation show. There have been 157 statewide in Connecticut as of July 4.

Advocates of the new laws point to studies that indicate that similar measures enacted in other states have led to reduction in traffic-related fatalities. There are 18 states that use speed cameras and 23 using red light cameras, according to a study by the National Conference of State Legislatures. Some states, including New Hampshire and Maine, have passed state laws barring use of automated speed and red light cameras.

Just how many of these traffic cameras might appear across the state remains an open question, but the technology will be available to any municipality that can demonstrate a need.

The legislation has already led to discussions about the pros and cons locally.

In East Lyme, First Selectman Kevin Seery said the town formed a police commission in 2017 that acts as the town’s traffic authority.

“This is where the ultimate decision would be made, but there would be input from the Board of Selectmen and Public Works Department at a minimum,” Seery said. “Based on comments from residents, I believe there would be support for the installation of the cameras.”

Several years ago, Seery said the idea of red light cameras ― which were not yet legal ― was discussed in areas that included intersections of routes 1 and 161, Route 161 at the Exit 74 intersection and routes 161 and 156. He also has a list of high-volume traffic roads where speeding is an issue and speed cameras could be useful.

In Waterford, Police Chief Marc Balestracci said he has followed the legislation and anticipates there will be a few boards in town likely to discuss and have input on whether or not the town decides for or against the idea.

Over the next few months, Balestracci said the Board of Police Commissioners, the town’s civilian oversight board that also acts as the local traffic authority, is expected to discuss the topic. He also anticipates the Public Protection and Safety Committee of the Representative Town Meeting, the town’s legislative body, and the Board of Selectmen to potentially review and discuss the pros and cons of using this technology.

“As I take traffic safety very seriously and am taking steps to manage the concerns of traffic in Waterford, should our town wish to pursue this technology, I would then present specific intersections/roads that could be considered,” he said.

He did not have immediate recommendations.

Montville Mayor Ron McDaniel said the town recently switched to an independent police force and the idea of automated traffic enforcement has not yet been discussed. He hasn’t ruled out discussion in the near future.

“My sense is that the (police) chief will make an initial recommendation and then forward that to the Public Safety Commission to draft a policy for consideration by the council as a whole,” McDaniel said.

Groton Town Manager John Burt said there are no plans for the cameras in the works. If the town decided it was interested in either red light or speed cameras, Burt said he’d like to see them installed in areas with high numbers of traffic accidents. The town’s traffic authority, state DOT, Town Council and RTM would all be involved, he said.

DOT spokesman Josh Morgan said there are restrictions on when and where the cameras can be installed. The DOT is now in the process of developing guidelines with best practices for municipalities and expects to have those guidelines by Jan. 1.

Limited to ‘problem areas’

The use of the red light and traffic cameras will be limited to school zones, defined pedestrian safety zones and locations chosen by local officials deemed to be problem areas. DOT guidance, Morgan said, will also assure placements of the cameras is equitable and not targeted at any one group.

Any approval is good for three years after which time the DOT will look at data to find out whether the use of the cameras was effective in doing the job it was designed to do, Morgan said.

“It was not meant to generate money. It was meant to change behavior and improve safety,” Morgan said.

The money generated from this kind of enforcement will go back to municipalities for roadway infrastructure improvements, such as bike lanes or sidewalks, Morgan said.

The state already starting making use of the technology this year as part of a pilot program previously authorized in legislation allowing speed enforcement cameras in highway work zones, areas where “it’s very rare to find people following the speed limit,” Morgan said. The cameras used in the pilot program were in place along Interstate 95 in East Lyme, where there is an major highway construction project.

Under the new law allowing red light and speed cameras, violations will be handled like parking tickets so a driver will not lose points on their license or need to go to court. For now, fines will be capped at $50 for first offenses and $75 for second and subsequent offenses.

Public testimony submitted on the new legislation, HB5917, which allows red light and speed cameras, included a letter from Jennifer Lacker of Stonington, president of Bike Stonington.

Lacker said the small town’s roads leave little safe space for cyclists and the law’s provision for automated traffic enforcement devices “will contribute to a safer Connecticut for all road users by slowing traffic and creating more awareness of vulnerable users.” She said the automated devices “to give our current laws impact.”

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