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Connecticut Considers Options for Red Light, Speed Cameras

Under a new Vision Zero bill, cities would be able to create local laws for speed and red light cameras, hold hearings on the issue and locate monitoring devices in areas with histories of crashes and traffic violations.

Connecticut State Capitol
The Connecticut State Capitol
(David Kidd)
(TNS) — At a time of record motor vehicle crashes and fatalities, cities and towns would be able to create local laws for the use of speed and red light cameras, hold high-profile public hearings on the issue and locate monitoring devices in areas with histories of crashes and traffic violations, under a sharply amended Vision Zero bill that was approved in the House of Representatives Tuesday night.

"It is a substantial process that the local municipality would have to, on their own volition, determine to do themselves," state Rep. Roland Lemar, D-New Haven, said. "It's not a mandate on any municipality."

The legislation, which passed 104-46 after a five-hour debate, next heads to the Senate.

Municipalities participating in the initial three-year traffic enforcement program would submit plans to the state Department of Transportation, and provide assurances that individual communities, such as low-income and minority neighborhoods, would not be targeted.

Municipal participation could be extended after the initial three years, and red light and speed violators would pay simple fines, similar to parking tickets, as part of a balance of equity, and to assuage lawmakers concerned about the potential for racial profiling. Lemar described the fine structure as sharply reduced — $50 to $75 — compared to speeding tickets on interstate highways, and revenue would be used to make local roads safer. He said the DOT would assure that accumulated fines would not result in tactics including immobilizing vehicles with metal "boots."

The legislation would promote pedestrian and bicyclist rights, education and safety, and order the DOT to study changes in law including bike riders possibly treating stop signs as yield signs, and red lights as stop signs. Another area of research would include possibly prohibiting right turns on red. Lemar, co-chairman of the Transportation Committee, stressed those issues would only be studied, acknowledging that the right-turn-on-red was adopted in Connecticut decades ago as a way to save gasoline.

Lemar said that enforcement would be limited, but a cascade of societal changes prompts the legislation. "The dramatic increase in fatalities, the dramatic increase in speed, the dramatic increase in, frankly, disregard for community norms and standards," Lemar said. "This will become a model for the rest of the country, the way this program could work. Getting people to slow down is the core of this bill."

He acknowledged that perennial opposition among lawmakers resulted in the elimination of sections of the legislation that would have prohibited open containers of alcohol in vehicles, and make it mandatory for motorcyclists to wear helmets.

Another section removed from the final draft would have ordered the State Police to form a fatal-collision-reduction team to conduct high-visibility enforcement efforts at high-crash locations.

In recent weeks, as the General Assembly closes in on its June 7 adjournment, another contentious proposal, which would have lowered the .08-percent blood alcohol law to .05, failed. Last week, the House approved legislation aimed at tackling the issue of wrong-way driving, including warning lights, redesigned exit and entrance ramps, and installing rumble strips.

"The series of recommendations, though modified before you, will result in improved traffic safety, improved livability for our communities and avoid tragic fatalities in many cases that we have seen throughout Connecticut," Lemar said, noting "frankly, a behavioral norm that has changed in Connecticut."

Prosecutors who currently must choose between proceeding with trials or dropping charges, would be given a third option: ordering safety courses for drivers. Drivers up for license renewal or initial applications would be given literature on state laws such as giving bicycle riders three feet of room, and that pedestrians should raise their hands when entering a crosswalk.

Lemar said that Connecticut is ranked among the worst states in the country for drunken drivers. "I want people to slow down," Lemar said. "I want people to obey red lights. Yes, we would authorize, in a limited way, some automated enforcement, under very specific criteria for a very limited period of time, because this is a hard choice we need to make. There needs to be new behavioral norms in Connecticut. What we've seen on our roadways is, frankly, shocking."

Rep. Kathy Kennedy, R-Milford, a top Republican on the Transportation Committee, said the legislation has taken numerous weeks. "2022 was the most the deadliest year on our roads," she said. "In 2023 we have lost over 90 lives on our roadways. I don't know that this bill will stop this, but we have to start somewhere. We want our family members, our colleagues, everyone to get home safely each and every night," Kennedy said.

"It's not a mandate on any of our municipalities," Kennedy said of the traffic enforcement technology.

"This is an exhaustive process," Lemar responded. "If any local community wants to utilize this technology and set up a program, is an exhaustive process they have to go through with a series of public approvals necessary and public vetting they have to go through. We set a high threshold. I can't make you love this. I can tell you this is the right direction for our state because it can save lives."

© 2023 the Connecticut Post (Bridgeport, Conn.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.