Wednesday, February 13, 2008

SLOW DOWN: Lawmakers weighing highway cameras

By Gregory B. Hladky
Capitol Bureau Chief
— If you live in New Haven or Ansonia and don’t often drive along Interstate 95 in Old Lyme and East Lyme, you may not be all that concerned about a proposal to put cameras on that stretch of road to catch speeders.
But you ought to be.
Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s intention, assuming the legislature approves the pilot program, is to expand the anti-speeding camera program to other Connecticut highways if it were shown to help stop dangerous driving.
While General Assembly approval is far from certain, recent studies have shown highway camera-radar systems to be extremely effective in reducing both the rate of speeding and the number of accidents in areas where the cameras have been used.
“I think people are debating whether this is a good idea,” said the co-chairman of the legislature’s Judiciary Committee, state Rep. Michael P. Lawlor, D-East Haven. “Lots of things are effective, but that doesn’t mean they’re all good ideas.”
A report by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says speed cameras are now in use in about 35 cities in the U.S. and in eight states.
Arizona uses highway cameras statewide, while similar video monitoring systems are in use in portions of California, Colorado, Maryland, Massachusetts, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee and in the District of Columbia.
In Scottsdale, Ariz., a 9-month pilot program along a busy urban highway in 2006 resulted in a 95 percent drop in the number of drivers who exceeded the posted 65 mph speed limit by more than 10 mph.
When cameras were posted last year on residential streets and in school zones in Montgomery County, Md., there was a 70 percent reduction in the number of drivers who went more than 10 mph above the posted speed limit.
Studies in Australia and Great Britain, where speed cameras are in widespread use, have shown similar results.
Use of highway cameras to catch speeders also has been found to dramatically cut the number of crashes along roads where the system has been used.
The insurance highway safety institute cited a 2005 analysis of 14 different studies that concluded use of speed cameras could cut fatal crashes by 17 to 71 percent.
A study in Scotland released last May year found the number of road accidents in which people were seriously injured or killed dropped in one region from 62 in 2000 (before speed cameras were installed) to 31 in 2005 (after cameras were in place).
In her budget address, Rell said her plan for installing cameras with radar attached is intended to halt reckless, dangerous driving. “To those who use this congested highway as their personal speedway, we’re going to see you and we’re going to stop you,” Rell said.
Rell’s pilot program proposal would cost about $250,000. State officials said current plans call for those caught speeding on camera to be hit with an infraction, rather than more serious violation citations that state police can issue.
As part of her anti-speeding effort, Rell also proposes to hire an additional 100 state troopers for traffic enforcement programs over the next five years.
Connecticut isn’t alone in considering cameras as a way to combat speeding. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, there are currently 30 bills dealing with speed cameras being considered in eight states ranging from Hawaii to New York.
State Senate Majority Leader Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, said Tuesday that Rell’s pilot camera-radar proposal appears to have one major legal problem that it must overcome to pass the General Assembly: The plan would use cameras to record license plates of speeding vehicles, and a ticket would then be mailed to the vehicle’s owner.
“Under our law, we hold the driver responsible, not the owner,” said Looney. He said the question would be how to prove who was driving a particular vehicle at the time of the violation.
State House Deputy Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, said she wants to learn more about the proposed program and see what Connecticut law enforcement experts think.
“I have my concerns about it, but that’s why we do pilot programs,” said Klarides, “to find out what the problems are and what works.”
Lawlor said another issue is deciding at what speed the state would consider sending a ticket to the vehicle owner.
“It’s my personal observation that the average speed on I-95 and I-91 is 75-80 mph,” said Lawlor. “As a general rule, the state police don’t pull people over unless they are doing 80 (mph) or more.”
“If we set it (the speed at which a motorist will be sent a ticket resulting from a camera recording) at 66 mph, we’ll be handing out a lot of tickets and we’ll have lots of very unhappy people,” said Lawlor.
Another concern, Lawlor said, is whether highway cameras would open the door toward far more government surveillance of citizens. “You get into the whole issue of privacy and things like that,” he said.

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