Massachusetts bill would OK statewide use of photo-red cameras

| 7/23/2008

A bill working its way through the Massachusetts House would set statewide standards for red-light cameras.

The cameras snap pictures of red-light runners’ vehicle tags. Tickets are mailed to the vehicles’ owners, regardless who was driving at the time. Some cities and towns in the state have enacted ordinances while others continue to study the issue, while they wait for the Legislature to make a decision.

Sponsored by Rep. Kevin Honan, D-Brighton, the bill would allow communities to contract with companies to install and maintain cameras. The cameras would capture an image of a vehicle’s license plate and another that shows its progression through the intersection.

Violators would face $25 fines. Insurance companies would not be notified.

Municipalities would pay camera companies a flat monthly fee based on the value of the equipment and the services provided. Paying companies a percentage of fines would be prohibited.

Advocates say the bill is about safety and using technology in a helpful way. Others say authorizing the use of cameras frees up police to address bigger issues.

Opponents, including trucking industry officials, question the claim that cameras are intended solely to keep people safe.

“The motivation of every player in this deal is economics. Whether it’s the local jurisdiction or the manufacturer, that’s not reasonable justification for doing that,” said Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.

Others question the effectiveness of such intersection cameras, arguing they have the potential to distract drivers and cause more fender-bender accidents. In fact, multiple studies have found that crashes actually increased in cities with red-light cameras.

The bill – H3512 – has moved from the Legislature’s Transportation Committee to the House Ways and Means Committee. However, time is short for the bill to gain passage. It must pass the House and Senate by July 31, when the formal legislative session ends.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Massachusetts in 2008, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor