If Mayor John DeStefano Jr. gets his way in the state legislature, cameras may soon be installed at traffic lights throughout the city.
Flanked by members of the New Haven delegation to Hartford — including State Sen. Martin Looney and State Rep. Roland Lemar — and several aldermen, DeStefano held a press conference Monday morning to announce the city’s plans to pursue legislation that would allow it to use such cameras to catch drivers who speed or run red lights. But the proposed legislation, which has failed to pass the state legislature many times before, has drawn crticism from opponents due to concerns about privacy and funding.
The press conference was held at a high-speed intersection near Yale-New Haven Hospital where Mila Rainof MED ’08 was killed by a speeding car in 2008 and 11-year-old New Haven resident Gabrielle Lee died after being hit the following year. The proposed law would allow Connecticut cities with 60,000 or more residents to experiment with using the cameras, fining violators between $100 and $124.
“The press conference this week was called in support of the state enabling legislation to allow municipalities like New Haven to install red light cameras at high-volume intersections,” said City Hall spokeswoman Elizabeth Benton ’04. “We are hoping this important and life-saving bill will pass this year, and New Haven will have the ability to employ this important technology.”
Benton said that statistics have shown that increased traffic enforcement is related to a decrease in car-related accidents. Red light cameras, she said, would help the city bolster its traffic enforcement without using police or other resources.
State legislators proposed a similar bill in last year’s legislative session. The bill ultimately failed to pass because of privacy concerns, however, after former Alderman Charles Blango suggested that the cameras could be used to fight crime by identifying suspects.
Benton said the proposed cameras would photograph only the rear license plate of the offending vehicle, not the driver or any of the surrounding areas. Visible warning signs would be installed, she said, and tickets received due to the cameras could be contested if the vehicle was in use by another driver — a concern skeptics have raised in the past.
Ward 7 Alderman Doug Hausladen ’04, whose ward includes most of downtown New Haven, cited a 2011 study that claims red light cameras save lives and reduce the number of front-to-side car crashes. But the Connecticut American Civil Liberties Union, which has successfully fought the bill when it was proposed in the past, has previously referenced both a 2008 University of Florida study stating that cameras may actually increase injuries and accidents as well as recommendations from auditors in Denver, Colo. and Los Angeles, Calif. who have said there is no evidence that the cameras are effective in reducing traffic violations.
State Rep. Pat Dillon, who represents New Haven and who has expressed concerns with the legislation before, was not at Monday’s press conference. Dillon said in addition to harboring concerns regarding authority misuse of cameras, she never received a draft of the proposal to read over.
Ward 22 Alderwoman Jeanette Morrison also said she was not given a draft, explaining that she was unable to take a stand on the proposed legislation without knowing the specifics. Community safety is “definitely paramount,” she said, but the benefits of red light cameras would have to be weighed against other concerns while the city is recovering from a budget crisis.
“My priority is with the youth,” Morrison said, adding that the money that might go to funding red light cameras could be used instead for a youth shelter.
Over 500 cities in 25 states use red light cameras at intersections. New Haven saw 5,664 traffic accidents in 2011, eight of which resulted in fatalities.