Connecticut legislators and law enforcement agencies last week re-opened the debate on whether red light cameras should be installed in various cities to potentially prevent traffic accidents at intersections.

Since 2005, 15 bills in Connecticut regarding the subject have been proposed, but none has passed. State law doesn’t allow local governments to install red light camera systems on their own. Some state legislators worry that the cameras threaten privacy and individual rights and result in unfair citations, such as a car owner getting ticketed when another person is driving the car.

Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia have red light camera programs currently operating, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. However, Connecticut’s indecisiveness is warranted, say those involved in the decision-making process.

“Some people think they are the greatest things since sliced bread and some people think it’s big government, so it’s a very divisive issue,” said Kevin Nursick, spokesman for the Connecticut Department of Transportation, which recently became in favor of placing the cameras on intersections after a series of fatal car accidents on Avon Mountain, a notoriously dangerous intersection. Previously the department had stayed neutral on the topic. “It’s a very tough issue for lawmakers,” he said.

And various studies have provided conflicting results on whether the programs actually reduce the number of accidents.

In 2007, the Virginia Transportation Research Council released a seven-year study that found the number of rear-end collisions actually increased after installing the traffic cameras because of people slamming on their brakes to avoid running the light.

A Washington state news report estimated it costs cities $40,000 per camera per year. The report also noted that within a six-month period, the cameras brought in $2.6 million in ticket revenue. Where that revenue goes is another dilemma.

Various cities like El Paso, Texas, and St. Peters, Mo., use the revenue from the ticket violations to fund the red light program.

West Hartford Police Chief James Strillacci told the Hartford Courant that if lawmakers allow police to use traffic cameras, how the new revenue stream is divided may become an issue in Connecticut. Most money collected from traffic tickets goes to the state, not cities and towns. That formula would have to change because the technology would have to pay for itself, Strillacci said.

State Rep. Stephen Dargan, D-West Haven, co-chairman of the Legislature’s public safety committee, replied in the same article that lawmakers could choose to give municipalities a percentage of the money collected from traffic tickets.

Other cities are experimenting with tactics to prevent crashes that may be less expensive. Albuquerque, N.M., announced this week that it has removed some of its traffic light cameras and added an average of a half-second to yellow lights at 12 of the 14 red light camera intersections. Research by the Texas Transportation Institute confirmed that longer yellows yield significant accident reductions.

But in Connecticut, the state’s $3.4 billion budget deficit might weigh heavy in the decision. Red light cameras, after all, would generate much-needed revenue.

Lauren Katims Nadeau  |  Contributing Writer