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Camera cops’ urged at stop lights

New Haven Register | May 10, 2005
By Gregory B. Hladky

HARTFORD — Connecticut should join the 20 other states and the District of Columbia that are already using "camera cops" to catch motorists who run red lights, a bipartisan group of lawmakers and local officials said Monday.

New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. said a study done in his city documented 870 motorists who ran red lights at just three intersections during a 48-hour period.

"This is not a red light bill," DeStefano said. "This is a kid on a bicycle bill; this is a senior in a crosswalk walking slowly across the street; this is your neighbor jogging down the street bill.

"It’s about the civility and safety of our community," DeStefano said.

State Rep. Robert Farr, R-West Hartford, said the legislation now being considered by the General Assembly would allow municipalities to use cameras at intersections to identify red-light runners and send them tickets by mail.

"What we’re talking about is saving lives and reducing the carnage on our highways," Farr said.

Similar legislation has been proposed in the past two General Assembly sessions but never made it to a vote in the House or Senate.

Critics claim that allowing the use of enforcement cameras at intersections would be a violation of individual privacy and could open the door to the use of surveillance cameras for other purposes.

"The objections I heard ... was that it was ‘Big Brother’ looking over your shoulder," said state Rep.

Melody A. Currey, D-East Hartford, a strong advocate of the measure.

Curry said she believes that warning motorists with signs that an intersection is being monitored and having a camera take a picture only if a driver runs a red light should answer those concerns. "This seems very straight forward, very up front," Curry said.

Under this bill, motorists caught running red lights by cameras could be fined up to $100, but the offense wouldn’t count as an infraction that might result in a driver’s license being suspended or his or her insurance increased. When a ticket is sent to a motorist for running a light, the local police would also have to include with the ticket a photo documenting the offense.

"Anything new is always going to have some resistance," Farr said of the bill’s failure to make it through the legislature in the past two years.

Farr said that using so-called camera cops has been very effective in convincing motorists not to run red lights in the scores of cities around the United States and Canada where the system is in use.

According to information collected by the Federal Highway Safety Administration, about 207,000 accidents were caused in 2002 by motorists running red lights. Those crashes killed nearly 1,000 people and injured another 178,000.

The New Haven study was also conducted in 2002 by Nestor Traffic Systems, a Rhode Island-based company that provides traffic monitoring systems.

The $14,000 study monitored traffic at three of New Haven’s busiest intersections:

•At Whalley Avenue and Orchard Street, the monitors recorded 364 red-light violations over about 19 hours of observation.

•At Grand and Blatchely avenues, 426 red-light runners were spotted during a 24-hour period.

•At Columbus and Washington avenues, 80 violations were recorded over a span of about three hours.

DeStefano said the ability to use cameras to photograph red-light violators and ticket them by mail would free dozens of police officers, enabling the city to more effectively deal with crime.

Supporters of the concept of using camera cops to catch red-light runners pointed to the success other cities have had in using similar systems.

A study in Raleigh, N.C., found that total accidents dropped by 22 percent after the intersection cameras were installed. Crashes in which cars were broadsided by motorists running red lights plummeted 42 percent, and rear-end accidents at the monitored intersections dropped 25 percent.

Over a two-year period after cameras were installed at red-light intersections in Santa Ana, Calif., accidents at those locations were reduced by 29 percent.

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