Red Light Traffic Cameras Fail In Massachusetts Senate — For Now

Printed from:

Opposition was abundant, so there will not be any red light traffic cameras in Massachusetts — for now.

The Massachusetts Senate considered a bill last week (Massachusetts Senate Bill 2553) that would allow cities and towns to create automatically enforced traffic lights and school-bus cameras. The bill would impose a $25 fine on those who committed traffic violations. The fines would go to the Massachusetts general fund and the violations would not affect a driving record or car insurance.

The final proposal included a three-year pilot program, testing the idea in three to five towns and cities in the Bay State. It failed by a 19-18 margin. All four Republicans in the Massachusetts Senate (Ryan Fattman of Sutton, Dean Tran of Fitchburg, Patrick O’Connor of Weymouth, and Bruce Tarr of Gloucester, the minority leader) voted in favor of the proposal and were joined by 14 Democrats. Meanwhile, 19 Democrats voted against the proposal.

Supporters of the bill, which is likely to resurface in the future, say it would improve safety by encouraging drivers not to run red lights or pass a stopped school bus.

State Senator Will Brownsberger (D-Belmont), the lead sponsor of the bill, said red-light cameras would provide a needed tool to help police promote traffic safety.

“In many municipalities today, the crush of traffic makes it impossible for local police to adequately enforce the traffic laws. Road safety is deteriorating as too may motorists push red lights, exceed speed limits on residential streets and block congested intersections,” said Brownsberger, the president pro tempore of the Senate, in a written statement on his web site. “Automated enforcement using traffic cameras can help.”

Opponents question the effectiveness of the proposal and are concerned by what they describe as a loss of liberty.

Red light cameras exist in some other states, including neighboring Rhode Island. They result in more traffic tickets, but some say that doesn’t translate to safer roads. A study in 2017 conducted by Case Western Reserve University economist Justin Gallagher and Paul Fisher, a graduate student at the University of Arizona, found that over a span of 12 years in Houston and Dallas, red light traffic cameras made no difference in driver safety.

Mary Z. Connaughton, the director of government transparency at the Pioneer Institute, a conservative think tank in Boston, said state officials should first look at the evidence and make it a local issue if they choose to move forward with it.

“When cameras are introduced, privacy issues abound. Some states have limited red light cameras to large cities and some leave it to local ordinance,” she told New Boston Post in a written statement issued through a spokesman. “Many have prohibited them altogether. If Massachusetts goes in this direction, each locality should bring it to a vote either through town meeting or city council.”

Among the red-light-camera bill’s supporters is the Boston Cyclists Union, which argues the legislation would improve safety for cyclists.

“We are very excited to see this bill moving forward. Automated enforcement is a proven strategy across the country to make streets safer for all road users,” said Eliza Parad, director of organizing of the Boston Cyclists Union, in an email message to New Boston Post. “Automated enforcement also removes the potential for bias in enforcement. We have been advocating for the bill with the MA Vision Zero Coalition.”

Under the proposal, the cameras would not be able to fine cyclists who run red lights because their bikes don’t have license plates.

Some of those opponents are civil libertarians, who are generally opposed to government surveillance — like the Reason Foundation and the Massachusetts Libertarian Party.

“Red light cameras cause more harm and complications than they fix,” said Adrian Moore, vice president of Reason Foundation, told New Boston Post in an email message. “A number of state and local jurisdictions have removed red light cameras when the small effects on red light running is revealed accompanied by big spikes in rear end crashes, disputes over yellow light length, and protests over high fines emerge. Time after time we find that red light cameras make little difference for safety, but lead to lots of new revenue from fines that flows to the red light camera companies and the state.”

Moore also said problems associated with running red lights are typically caused by other actions that are preventable and already against the law like speeding, intoxicated driving, and distracted driving.

Former Massachusetts Libertarian Party chairman Jeff Lyons called the proposal “the latest development in for-profit policing.”

“Though it may be true that the camera systems cause drivers to think twice about proceeding through a yellow light, the trade-off appears to be a spike in rear-endings as drivers choose to slam on the breaks at the yellow light and increasing accidents overall, which would mean higher insurance rates locally,” he said in a written statement provided to New Boston Post by the Massachusetts Libertarian Party.

Lyons also claimed that some municipalities, when they put in traffic-light cameras, also shorten yellow lights to increase revenue.

According to the National Motorists Association, at least six major cities have made yellow lights shorter to increase revenue. Those include:  Chattanooga, Tennessee; Dallas, Texas; Springfield, Missouri; Lubbock, Texas; Nashville, Tennessee; and Union City, California.

The National Motorists Association opposes the bill, as they do with all automated traffic enforcement.

“Bills like these are never about safety and all about policing for profit. Automated cameras do not allow alleged violators to face their accusers (violating constitutional rights) and cities make it difficult for anyone to fight these tickets,” said Sheila Dunn, communications director for the National Motorists Association, in an email message. “This is especially true if yellow lights are not timed properly at intersections (for red-light cameras) or speed limits are set artificially too low which is the case in many MA cities and towns.”