The red light camera law moved forward Monday in the Transportation Committee as part of a two-year pilot program in New Haven, which is in the middle of a safe-streets campaign. The high-profile deaths of a Yale University Medical School student and a young girl, in separate incidents last year, triggered a citywide coalition of cyclists, public officials and physicians to push an ambitious agenda aimed at traffic safety. "I think it is the first step for making city streets safer and more civil. We can’t put police on every corner," said Mayor John DeStefano Jr.
About half the states in the U.S. either have red light camera legislation, or are considering it, according to the Federal Safety Administration, and it is widely used in Europe. The committee voted in favor of the bill 24-12. It now goes to the Senate, which will refer it to other committees for review before it comes back for a vote. Dr. Kirsten Bechtel, an associate professor of pediatrics at the Yale Medical School, said nationally there were 900 deaths and 153,000 injuries in crashes that involved running red lights in 2007. "I would like nothing more, as a pediatric emergency medicine physician, to reduce the number of children I treat who are injured from being struck by cars running red lights," Bechtel said.
The bill contains many provisions designed to overcome objections that have been raised in the past, including a 50/50 revenue split between city and state that will make it unlikely to generate significant municipal revenue. The bill also contains language requiring a phase-in period, an appeals process, signal timing reviews and warning signage.
New York currently has a similar pilot program with 100 cameras, but the program may be set to expand. Red light cameras are also used in cities including Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, DC, as well as many smaller cities and towns. Additional research is compiled on the IIHS website.
In response to Rep. Lawlor's criticism of the bill, one commenter on the Register site writes:
The concerns about rear-end collision are understandable, but let's look at what has happened in other places. These result in far fewer fatalities and serious injuries. Look at it this way. Instead of 2 life ending crashes, you might get 3 fender benders. The increase in rear-end collisions drops off dramatically over time, though, & most of those statistics come from places where the signage was not as obvious & explanatory as it is now. ... Even if we do have a minor increase in fender benders--which I don't think we'll see, because New Haven tested these before & had no increase in rear-end collisions--I think it's well worth the lives that will be saved & the serious injuries that will be prevented. Fact. The majority of accidents are at intersections from red light cameras. It's very hard for a police officer to ticket this because they have to run a red light to catch the driver. This is a great tool that will really help us reduce death & accidents without endangering the public. Let's get with it! 20 other states do this already. What are we waiting for?"
Red Light Cams Coming to New Haven (WTNH TV, 3/10/09)
It took a News Channel 8 crew less than a minute to spot someone running a red light at the intersection of South Frontage Road and York Street in the Elm City. Pedestrians here know they better look once - and then look again - to cross. "It's rugged, you know," said New Haven resident Rob Davis. "Lot of traffic, people getting off work - and they fly through here.
Update 6/15/09: Despite modifications and negotiations, the bill failed to pass other committees during this legislative session. City officials hope to raise it again next year.