Every day on my 25-minute walk to work in New Haven, I witness vehicles speeding and running red lights, with the worst behavior at the intersection of York Street and South Frontage Road, right across from Yale New Haven Hospital —an intersection with a history of traffic fatalities.
With the reckless —and illegal— behavior I witness daily, it sadly is not surprising that at least 385 people were killed in traffic fatalities in Connecticut last year, according to the UConn Connecticut Crash Data Repository. This is more than one person a day. According to the UConn database, 65 of these individuals were pedestrians or cyclists.
This loss of life is unacceptable. These are not just statistics, but real people, with families and friends, whose lives were suddenly cut short: a 15-year-old riding his bike to watch the sunset, a 53-year-old at work as a landscaper, a 19-year-old walking home from a doctor’s appointment, and hundreds of other innocent people going about their lives in our state. We must change how we approach traffic enforcement, infrastructure, and education or else these needless deaths will continue.
Two years ago, the Connecticut General Assembly agreed change was needed and created the Vision Zero Council to develop a state-wide policy and interagency approach to eliminate all transportation-related fatalities and severe injuries. The Council was required to submit proposals to the legislature to achieve this goal.The Council formed subcommittees, which focused on enforcement, education, infrastructure, and equity.
I participated in this process as a community member and appreciate the expertise other members brought to the discussions and the subcommittees’ collaborative, thoughtful approach. The result of this work was a set of Vision Zero Council proposals, which are now packaged as HB 5917, An Act Implementing the Recommendations of the Vision Zero Council. The Transportation Committee voted favorably on this bill on March 10.
I call on the state legislature to stand behind its commitment to Vision Zero and pass HB 5917 so that we can end Connecticut’s epidemic of preventable traffic fatalities. Unfortunately, though unsurprisingly, since the legislature made the commitment two years ago, traffic-related fatalities have increased, from 302 in 2021, to 385 deaths last year. We are heading in the wrong direction.
While there are many important provisions in the Vision Zero bill, automated enforcement would have the most powerful effects. The single greatest contributor to lethal traffic crashes is speed. So many drivers are speeding and running red lights because there is minimal enforcement and therefore essentially no consequence to breaking the law and putting lives at risk. Plain and simple, speed kills. Research shows that a car driving at 20 mph will kill or seriously injure pedestrians in approximately 15% of accidents, while that percentage leaps to 80% for a car driving at 40 mph.
Until we redesign our streets statewide to calm traffic and protect vulnerable road users, which will take time and money, we will not meaningfully reduce the number of people being killed on our roads without effective, data-driven, and unbiased enforcement. Increased in-person enforcement isn’t the solution. Beyond the fact that our police departments don’t have the resources to focus on traffic enforcement, it’s painfully clear that in-person enforcement far too often is biased against and dangerous for Black and indigenous people of color.
To change behavior and save lives, we need to thoughtfully implement automated enforcement, a common sense, proven approach to improved traffic safety: 18 states use speed cameras; 22 red light cameras. Most studies reported that speed cameras reduce collisions by 30 to 40%.
More specifically, data from New York City demonstrates that cameras change behavior. More than half of all drivers who receive a first violation never receive another. When cameras recently went from being activated only on weekdays to being activated 24/7, traffic deaths fell by 32%.
The legislators and staff who drafted the automated enforcement provisions in HB 5917 listened carefully to concerns raised about automated enforcement in prior sessions, and built in sensible guardrails to address them. Some examples are below.
Disparate impact on underserved neighborhoods and local control: This bill does not mandate automated enforcement, it merely empowers municipalities to pass legislation authorizing speed or red light cameras.
To pass these ordinances, local legislators will have to engage with their communities before approving and activating speed cameras, which will help ensure they are placed where needed to keep communities safe, without imposing a disparate impact on underserved neighborhoods. This effort is aided by the fact that the bill limits camera placement to school zones, pedestrian safety zones, and locations with high crash rates, ensuring that camera placement is determined by data and community input and does not exacerbate the existing over-surveillance of underserved neighborhoods.
Just as in-person traffic enforcement has had a disparate racial impact, so, too, has the lack of traffic enforcement, with the resulting crashes disproportionately killing Black pedestrians and cyclists. As a recent study, “Racial disparities in traffic fatalities much wider than previously known,” shows, Black Americans had the highest traffic fatality rate per mile traveled across all modes (walking, cycling, or driving). Alarmingly, although the study showed white Americans biked at almost four times the distance per capita as Black Americans, Black Americans died at more than four times the rate per mile cycling than white Americans. Compared to white Americans, Black Americans experienced traffic deaths at more than twice the rate per mile walking than white Americans.
Reinvesting revenue to promote traffic safety: Cameras are not, as some argue, a “money grab.” The bill requires that all revenue that a municipality receives from automated enforcement must be spent on improving traffic safety in that municipality. Moreover, because cameras change behavior, they bring in decreasing revenue over time. Of note, the bill requires that vendors’ fees may not be contingent on the number of citations issued or fines paid, obviating a possible conflict of interest there.
Much less intrusive than in-person enforcement: Some argue automated enforcement is a privacy violation and government intrusion. The courts have found that automated enforcement does not violate the right to privacy. Moreover, privacy and data use limitations have been thoughtfully included in this bill based of past feedback.
The camera simply takes a photo of a car’s license plate IF a driver goes ten or more miles per hour over the speed limit or runs a red light. The bill requires all data collected that is not related to a specific violation to be deleted immediately; data related to a specific violation must be deleted no later than one year after the violation or following the resolution of any appeal.
The bill also requires municipalities to install advance warning signs 100 feet ahead of the location of any automated enforcement safety device, giving drivers fair notice and time to correct their behavior and avoid being ticketed.
As colleagues in the Safe Streets Coalition of New Haven stated so well in a CT Mirror Op-Ed in November 2020, “In the long term, investing in human-centered street design will encourage safe driving and reduce the need for enforcement—but this requires time and money. Authorizing automated enforcement would be an immediate, practical step to address the pedestrian and cyclist safety crisis in Connecticut.”
My request to the state legislature: Pass HB 5917 and enable municipalities to use automated enforcement if they so choose. It changes behavior and saves lives. The alternative? Many more people being needlessly killed and failing to meet the Vision Zero goal established two years ago.
Abigail Roth is a transportation advocate with the Safe Streets Coalition of New Haven.