Traffic-signal camera bill gets first hearing

CONCORD – David Cadorette, of Amherst, can’t remember the last time he came to Concord to speak about proposed legislation, but a bill to allow cameras on traffic signals moved him to do it again.

It’s a bad idea, the self-employed business consultant told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday.

“This is a slippery slope,” he said, adding later, “I think it just opens up doors to things – I don’t think we should be going down that road.”

Cadorette said he’s concerned that cameras would eventually come to be seen more as a revenue source than a traffic-safety tool, especially given the involvement of private, for-profit companies in supplying the equipment and ticket-writing systems.

Furthermore, Cadorette argued that turning red-light-running into a civil violation – with no points imposed on a driver’s record (tickets based on cameras would be treated as such, under the proposed law) – runs the risk of degrading drivers’ respect for the red light.

“Inevitably, it just becomes this very easy revenue stream,” he said. “It shouldn’t be about revenue, it should be about enforcing the law.”

Cadorette was the only person who spoke against the bill, but he clearly had an ally on the committee in Sen. Robert Letourneau, R-Derry, who argued that simply increasing the delay between light changes would be a better way to reduce crashes. Currently, there is a two-second delay, from the time a light turns red until the cross-traffic light turns green.

“If you add a second and a half to that, you drop your red light violation rate by almost 50 percent . . . and it doesn’t cost any money,” Letourneau said.

Some studies suggest that red light cameras can increase rear-end collisions, and youngsters have been known to prank the system, with photocopied license plates, Letourneau said.

“People slam on their brakes anyway at times. I don’t think it adds any more to the issue, in my personal opinion,” Bedford Police Chief David Bailey countered. “Overall, the studies I’ve read show a decrease in traffic accidents at intersections.”

Other studies show that red light cameras reduce the more serious T-bone-type collisions, one of the bill’s sponsors, Rep. John Graham, R-Bedford, said, adding that a longer delay might encourage more drivers to run lights.

Longer signal delays also back up traffic, Bailey said, speaking in favor of the bill on behalf of town officials and the New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police.

“We have a lot of accidents at intersections, nationwide. I see personally a deterioration of people stopping for red lights,” Bailey said. “I drive an unmarked car . . . each morning I only have to go through two lights on my way to work in the morning. I could stop a car almost every morning, and sometimes I do stop a car.”

“I go through the same two intersections,” Graham said, “and every morning I see someone go through.”

Bailey said the bill addresses privacy concerns raised by a previous proposal, as it calls for cameras to shoot only rear plates, not drivers. The law, if passed, would hold vehicle owners responsible for the violation, unless they could show they weren’t driving the car at the time.

People are already subject to traffic-monitoring cameras at some intersections, such as Spit Brook Road and Daniel Webster Highway, as well as
E-ZPass cameras, store security cameras and cell phone cameras, Bailey said. In keeping with the state’s driver privacy law, the bill would exempt the data and photos from signal cameras from the state’s Right-to-Know Law, so the images and information wouldn’t be public records, he said.

The bill would only authorize the cameras, not require them, and it doesn’t come with any funding to install cameras anywhere.

“The money part is a long ways down the road, if this enabling legislation is passed,” Bailey said.

As for revenue, the bill proposes to split the $100 fine between communities and the state, but it’s unclear whether there might also be a cut for companies supplying the cameras.

“We’re for safety, not for money,” Bailey said. “I want nothing to do with getting the money.”