Legislature considering traffic-watching devices

Hartford - State lawmakers heard testimony Monday for two different types of high-tech traffic law-enforcement devices that could someday guard Connecticut roads and intersections and generate government revenue.

The first technology, red-light enforcement cameras, could be introduced in cities of 48,000 people or more as early as October under legislation now before the General Assembly's Transportation Committee.

Under the bill, municipalities could impose up to $65 in fines and processing fees on motorists who are caught on camera running or rolling through a red light. Scofflaws would receive a ticket in the mail but no points on their license.

"We're enthusiastic about it from a public safety standpoint," said state Sen. Andrew Maynard, D-Stonington, the committee's co-chairman.

The second technology, called radio-frequency identification, consists of a small transmitter device embedded in a person's vehicle that could instantly notify law enforcement if the vehicle's registration, insurance or emissions compliance expires.

The devices could also be configured to report speeding violations and perform E-ZPass-style collection of tolls.

Paul Scully-Power, a former astronaut and one-time Mystic resident who has conducted research for radio-frequency ID, testified at the Capitol complex in support of a bill that would require the Department of Motor Vehicles to study the potential uses of radio-frequency ID technology for vehicle registration.

He cited driver's license records showing nearly 300,000 uninsured Connecticut motorists in 2007. As many as nine out of 10 of them likely weren't punished with the $100 minimum fine, he said.

But radio-frequency ID devices could have immediately identified all the violators and generated almost $30 million, if they paid up. "It would give the state an income for finding those violators," said Scully-Power.

Twenty-four states and the District of Columbia allow red-light cameras. No state has yet tried radio-frequency ID for traffic law enforcement, officials said, although the technology is being used on a limited basis in collection of tolls.

Scully-Power said versions of the technology are used for U.S. border patrols, State Department passports and for tracking military equipment. He told lawmakers he recently helped a firm bring vehicular radio-frequency ID to Thailand.

Maynard said radio-frequency ID, if it happens in Connecticut, would give law enforcement the ability to quickly identify lawbreakers that was lost when the state stopped requiring visible registration stickers on windshields or license plates.

And revenue generated from better enforcement could help fund much-needed road and bridge repairs across the state, he said.

"This is a way of providing a good law-enforcement tool, but coincidentally, each of those things also points to a revenue stream," Maynard said.

Maynard said he was introduced to radio-frequency ID by Scully-Power.

"I think he'd heard of our struggles with revenue issues and keeping up road repairs and bridge repairs," he said.

In regards to red-light cameras, the fines contained in the current bill are significantly smaller than the maximum $124 penalty proposed last year. The population requirement was also decreased from 60,000, although the 48,000 minimum is still too large to qualify any communities in southeastern Connecticut to install the cameras.

Mayors, police chiefs and bike-walk advocates from Connecticut's largest cities spoke in favor of the camera bill at Monday's hearing.

Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra said he has observed "a drastic increase and a reckless disregard" in his city for traffic laws. He believes traffic cameras would improve drivers' behavior and save lives.

"It's really gotten out of hand," the mayor said.

But Andrew Schneider, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut, said the results of various traffic studies and data have been mixed at best.

"There are traffic safety experts who will argue these cameras make intersections more dangerous," Schneider said.

He noted that at least 14 states have banned the cameras, and the city of Houston reached a nearly $5 million settlement with camera vendor American Traffic Solutions after residents voted to turn off the red-light cameras despite the city's vendor contract.

Camera vendors often receive a share of the proceeds from traffic tickets issued.

j.reindl@theday.com

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