Red-light camera supporters willing to lower proposed fines

Hartford - State lawmakers pushing for red-light enforcement cameras in large and medium-sized Connecticut cities said Thursday that they are lowering the proposed fines to be less like a speeding ticket and more like a parking ticket.

Traffic violators caught on camera would be fined somewhere from $50 to $75 per violation, down from the $124 penalty in the unsuccessful red-light camera legislation last year, said state Rep. Antonio Guerrera, D-Rocky Hill. And a violation would not count as points on a driver's license.

Another change from last year's version of the bill is a lowered population requirement. The previous bill allowed cities with 60,000 or more residents to install red-light cameras. Guerrera said the minimum would be lowered to 48,000 to 50,000 residents, a change that would permit the cameras in the city of East Hartford.

The population minimum would still rule out cameras in any southeastern Connecticut communities.

Proponents are hoping that a smaller fine would make the bill more palatable this year in the legislature, where it has languished in recent sessions. The changes were disclosed during a news conference intended to build momentum for the legislation.

The news conference was organized by the National Coalition for Safer Roads, an advocacy group that was started last year by a red-light camera vendor, American Traffic Solutions.

More than a dozen speakers on Thursday emphasized that red-light cameras are needed because they make hazardous intersections and roadways safer. The speakers included medical doctors, a bike-walk advocate, a mayor and the son of a Hartford hit-and-run victim.

"The blatant disregard of traffic control devices seems to be on the rise, at least anecdotally," said Hamden Mayor Scott Jackson. "This is a way for us to make our intersections safer, make our communities safer, I urge you - I implore you - take this seriously."

The legislation would allow cities the option of installing traffic cameras; it would not require them.

Two dozen states and the District of Columbia already allow red-light cameras. Yet 15 states reportedly have banned them.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has said he would sign red-light camera legislation, provided the fine is smaller than a regular ticket and doesn't add points to a driver's license.

Lawmakers faced intense questioning at the news conference about the revenue-generating details of their cameras bill. When a representative of the safer roads coalition, Christopher Hunter of Providence-based Advocacy Solutions LLC, attempted to cut short the question-and-answer segment, reporters shouted him down.

Guerrera and Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said repeatedly that the traffic enforcement cameras bill is about safety - not making money for municipalities or camera vendors.

"We're not trying to look at it as a profit here, as a business," Guerrera said. "We're trying to say that this is about saving lives."

Critics of red-light cameras argue that research is mixed on whether they improve safety, and that the devices mostly give tickets for minor infractions like rolling stops. The American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut is strongly opposed to the legislation.

Looney said the cameras must have a monetary penalty to be an effective deterrent to red-light running. "A warning that carries no other consequences will probably be thrown in the trash," he said.

Guerrera said the forthcoming bill would not allow cities to expand the mission of the cameras to catch speeders or vehicles that inch over the white line.

"No, this legislation will not permit that," he said.

j.reindl@theday.com

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