Red-Light Cameras, Red-Hot Debate

Territo, the ATS vice president, said that during the period that Houston's cameras were turned off by the mayor last year, there was a 147 percent increase in collisions at intersections. He said that for the Kuboshes, "it was a business decision. It was, is, and always will be. They make their living going to traffic court and getting people off of tickets. And red-light cameras made their job that much harder."

Opponents typically scoff at each other's statistics and poll results in the camera enforcement debate — and Michael Kubosh said a Rice University study contradicted the city's claims of decreased accidents at camera-enforced intersections. He said red-light cameras caused rear-end collisions when drivers see a camera-enforcement sign and jam on their breaks while the amber caution light is on. Territo denied that.

Kubosh characterized Territo, a former aide for a Democratic congressman from Pennsylvania, as one of those practiced talkers for an industry who will "tell you what you want to hear … like a guy on a date on a Friday night."

Territo also said that although "Houston was an unfortunate situation," it's not an indication of citizens' sentiment around the nation or a harbinger of things to come for his industry. He said outside of Houston his company had added dozens of city contracts and now is operating cameras in about 300 communities nationwide — including New York City, which has used the cameras since the 1990s.

He noted that voters in two cities in November had finally broken a string of losses for the industry by upholding camera enforcement programs.

Voters in East Cleveland, Ohio, agreed to keep existing traffic cameras in a Nov. 8 referendum, although cameras were rejected by voters in three other Ohio communities. It was reportedly the first time enforcement cameras had survived a vote anywhere in the nation.

Also in November, he said, voters in Longview, Wash., in a non-binding vote, approved of speed-enforcement cameras in school zones. However, voters also said they wanted to get rid of red-light cameras, a local newspaper report said.

Territo minimized the significance of such referendums.

"I think the relevance … is minimal at best. I think if you gave people the ability to vote on any law enforcement tactic" — even whether the police could ticket drivers for "stop sign violations" — "you'd probably see the same thing." He said there's a big public "policy question as to whether [referendum] questions of law enforcement should even be allowed."

Connecticut Proposal

No traffic camera bill has yet been drafted for the legislative session that will run from Feb. 8 to May 9. But supporters are talking about one similar to last year's, which got through by two legislative committees before stalling in the judiciary committee.

That bill would have enabled 13 Connecticut municipalities with populations of at least 60,000 to use the cameras to enforce red-light violations by issuing tickets calling for fines of at least $124 through the mail. Drivers could fight them in a local hearing process. They would not be able to renew vehicle registrations if they did not pay fines.

The tickets would not count as moving violations with "points" against a driver's license under that plan; it would be akin to a parking ticket in that regard.

Last year's bill did not attempt to institute a radar speed-camera enforcement program, and Malloy said last week at a press conference that he thinks this year's proposal also should stick to the red lights.

"I'm in favor of using technology, modern technologies, to fight modern problems," he said. "I'm not particularly tied to what the penalty is …. So, for instance, an electronically issued ticket might not carry points, or it might come at a lesser fine, to overcome some of the objections."

(Such objections, voiced prominently by the ACLU, include a driver's inability to face his accuser in court, because the accuser is a camera, not a human. Another objection is that the cameras only record the license plate and do not identify the driver, so the owner of a car or truck — or even a trailer — might be unjustly accused of running a red light if someone else is driving.)

"I'm just trying to practical about it," Malloy said. "I do not believe we should be fighting bad behavior with one arm tied behind our back. So availing ourselves of technologies that will help us ultimately correct those behaviors I think is highly appropriate. … I haven't understood, for the life of me, why we are not using technologies to positively impact changes in behavior."

Territo said on the phone last week that the cameras don't just take a photo of the license plate, but also make a 12-second video including the six seconds before and after the car runs a red light. Two technicians at ATS review the videos before the violations are sent back to the local police department for a final determination of whether a ticket should be issued, he said.

The cameras do not activate until a light turns red, he said, so no one who enters an intersection during an amber caution light gets a ticket. A 12-second video is better evidence of a violation than putting a policeman's word up against a motorist's, he said.

However, Riley, of the truckers' association, said only a police officer can correctly gauge all of the circumstances necessary for issuing a traffic ticket. He said the Internet is full of websites debunking camera enforcement proponents' claims — such as that of the National Motorists Association.

The NMA website has a list of objections to red-light cameras, beginning with "Despite the claims of companies that sell ticket cameras and provide related services, there is no independent verification that photo enforcement devices improve highway safety, reduce overall accidents, or improve traffic flow. Believing the claims of companies that sell photo enforcement equipment or municipalities that use this equipment is like believing any commercial produced by a company that is trying to sell you something."

Courant senior information specialist Cristina Bachetti contributed to this report.

Jon Lender is a reporter on The Courant's investigative desk, with a focus on government and politics. Contact him at, 860-241-6524, or c/o The Hartford Courant, 285 Broad St., Hartford, CT 06115 and find him on Twitter@jonlender.

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