The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities is the latest group to urge the General Assembly to adopt legislation that would allow cities and towns to use automatic cameras to catch drivers who run red lights. Red-light cameras have their critics, and not all questions about their use have been satisfactorily answered, but on balance the idea is sound and ought at least to be given a try.
Under present law, Connecticut communities may install such cameras, but the evidence they collect can't be used in court. The proposed legislation, which has the support of several legislative leaders, the Brain Injury Association of Connecticut and others, would change that.
Several studies have shown that installing cameras at stoplights saves lives. One, conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, reported that from 2004 to 2008, more than 150 lives were saved in 14 cities with red-light cameras.
But there are contradictory studies, such as one conducted by the Urban Transit Institute in North Carolina that showed a 40 percent increase in accidents after cameras were installed, mostly by drivers rear-ending a vehicle that had stopped suddenly lest it be photographed.
Critics have pointed out that the National Coalition for Safer Roads, a proponent of changing Connecticut's law, is an arm of American Traffic Solutions, a firm that makes red-light cameras and presumably stands to profit if the law is changed. Others have noted that the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities represents the cities and towns that would benefit financially by fining violators. Of course, laws should be enforced to improve safety, not to supplement tight budgets.
Still, legislators should pass the measure, perhaps on a trial basis. Over time, the municipalities themselves, which collect traffic statistics, will be able to determine whether the cameras actually help stop crashes at intersections, presumably saving lives. If they do, so much the better. If not, other ways of dealing with red-light violators can be tried.
In the meantime, such simple measures as increasing the time a traffic light stays yellow have been shown to greatly reduce the running of red lights. However it is accomplished, traffic safety should be the goal.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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