Connecticut already allows speed limit enforcement in highway work zones. A bill would allow municipalities to use them on roads to enforce speed limit and red light violations. Mark Pazniokas / CT Mirror

Connecticut municipalities would have the option to use automated cameras to enforce speed limit and red light violations under a traffic safety bill passed Tuesday by the House on a 104-46 vote and sent to the Senate.

House Bill 5917 is a reaction to the deaths of 239 drivers and passengers and 75 pedestrians in 2022, the deadliest year on Connecticut roadways in decades, according to the state Department of Transportation.

To win passage, sponsors of the bill shed provisions that would have required helmet use by motorcyclists and banned the consumption of alcoholic beverages by passengers in most motor vehicles.

“The series of recommendations, though modified, before you will result in improved traffic safety, improve livability for our communities and avoid the tragic fatalities in many cases that we’ve seen throughout Connecticut,” said Rep. Roland Lemar, D-New Haven.

The speed limit and red light cameras would be limited to school zones, defined pedestrian safety zones and other locations chosen by local officials and approved by the Office of State Traffic Administration. Speeders would have to be going at least 10 miles per hour over the limit to get an automated ticket.

“This is a hard choice we need to make,” said Lemar, co-chair of the Transportation Committee. “There needs to be new behavioral norms in Connecticut. What we’ve seen on our roadways, frankly, is shocking.”

Rep. Kathy Kennedy of Milford, the ranking House Republican on Transportation, said 90 people were killed on the roads in the first four-plus months of 2023.

“It’s really scary,” Kennedy said, describing accidents and reckless driving she’s witnessed on her commute to Hartford. “I don’t know that this bill will stop this. But we have to start somewhere.”

Acknowledging that the use of cameras to enforce traffic laws is controversial, Lemar said the bill includes safeguards against abuse. Camera locations would be subject to approval by local legislative bodies every three years.

Automated enforcement zones must be clearly marked, and fines would be capped at $50 for a first offense and $75 for a second offense regardless of a violator’s recorded speed. The revenue would go to municipalities and must be used for traffic-related expenses.

Violations would be handled more like a parking ticket than an infraction issued by a police officer. No points would be assessed to a driver’s license.

But opponents objected to the automation of law enforcement, the prospect of giving municipalities a profit incentive to give tickets, and the potential of discriminatory enforcement.

Despite Lemar’s protestations to the contrary, Rep. Craig Fishbein, R-Wallingford, said the bill was written to give discretion for issuing infractions. He noted that a municipal official after reviewing a recorded violation “may” issue a ticket.

“It’s discretionary whether or not that ticket is issued,” Fishbein said. “So we are opening the door to disparate treatment.”

Fishbein offered an amendment that would have struck the sections allowing enforcement by automated cameras.

“I think this is a bridge too far at this point, given the significant due process concerns,” Fishbein said.

Rep. Tom Delnicki, R-South Windsor, said Chicago has raised $1 billion over 10 years from its camera enforcement.

“That’s an amazing number,” Delnicki said.

Lemar said Chicago had a fine structure far more onerous that the limits of $50 for a first offense and $75 for a second offense in the Connecticut bill.

Mark is the Capitol Bureau Chief and a co-founder of CT Mirror. He is a frequent contributor to WNPR, a former state politics writer for The Hartford Courant and Journal Inquirer, and contributor for The New York Times.