Traffic Cameras Win Approval Amid Record Deaths, Equity Concerns


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HARTFORD – After years of debate, towns and cities will be able to set up cameras to enforce speed and red light violations in Connecticut – a change proponents hope will help make roadways safer amid record traffic deaths.

A bill implementing initiatives from the Vizion Zero Council – most notably the traffic cameras – passed the State Senate early Wednesday morning by a vote of 36-9, with State Sen. Saud Anwar, D-South Windsor, joining eight Republicans in voting against the bill.

The bill passed the House overwhelmingly in May, and will now go to Gov. Ned Lamont for his signature.

Proponents have argued allowing traffic cameras to automate speed and red light enforcement will force behavioral changes in Connecticut drivers at a time when more people are dying on the state’s roads. In 2022, 239 drivers and passengers died in crashes – up 41.5 percent over five years – while 75 pedestrians were killed, according to the Department of Transportation.

But automated traffic enforcement has long faced opposition from civil liberty advocates, including the ACLU, which has argued the cameras raise due process concerns, increase police surveillance, and target Black and brown drivers.

State Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, said he is concerned with the issue the bill is trying to address – people are driving faster, while paying less attention, and with less police enforcement. But he said he’s concerned about “Big Brother” and about “unleashing this power” of automated enforcement on the public.

“What we’re doing by this bill is we’re giving government yet one more tool to monitor our behavior,” Kissel said.

State Sen. Herron Gaston, D-Bridgeport, said he was concerned that automated enforcement has the potential to disproportionately target minority communities. But he said he’s been assured that the Connecticut Department of Transportation is committed to working with the NAACP, ACLU, Racial Profiling Prohibition Project and other groups to ensure cameras are rolled out in a way that prevents discrimination.

“I will be supporting this legislation, I do believe safety remains a top priority, we want to make sure that our roads are safe and people are arriving alive,” Gaston said. “But I do want to address those glaring concerns that many of us are already aware of, and we don’t want to have any unintended consequences for these communities that are already overburdened by discriminatory practices they’ve endured for decades.”

The bill allows towns and cities to set up enforcement cameras, but only after a lengthy approval process starting with public hearings and local government approval. If a camera gains local approval, the municipality then needs to show DOT data that the area has a history of crashes, and that the installation won’t disproportionately impact Black and brown drivers.

If a camera is approved, it can only be in place for three years before it needs to go through the approval process again.

State Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, said that traffic crashes disproportionately impact Black and Latino communities as well, not just enforcement. He said a corner near his home is a frequent site of crashes, and he doesn’t like that his kids are used to accidents.

Part of the reason there are more crashes in Black and Latino communities in New Haven is the way the streets are designed, he said. They are wider, and don’t have the streetscapes that other areas have, he said, allowing people to drive faster and more dangerously.

“We don’t talk about that, and my concern is that if people are concerned about what happens, they should be concerned about what happens to the people who live in those communities right now,” Winfield said.

Speaking to reporters after the bill passed, House Speaker Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, said he was surprised the traffic cameras passed both chambers, and that he “never thought we’d get it done.” 

A lot of work has been done to alleviate concerns about cameras over the past decade, he said. And House Majority Leader Jason Rojas, D-East Hartford, said concerns about traffic safety among lawmakers have grown over the past several years to the point where people wanted something to be done.

Both said they had intersections in their communities where they think a camera could be useful, and they’d advocate for their cities to install them.

“They have to have data, you can’t just put a camera on every corner,” Ritter said