Massachusetts lawmakers were cool last session to Gov. Charlie Baker's idea to allow red-light cameras in any interested city or town, but supporters are hopeful that a more narrow version that would limit the idea to a handful of communities will get a more favorable reception.
A bill filed by State Rep. Steven Owens (H 3393) would launch a pilot program allowing up to 10 municipalities to install a limited number of cameras to monitor for certain traffic violations, such as failing to stop at a red light or blocking an intersection.
Cities and towns would need to present crash data at proposed locations and consider the social and racial equity impacts of the cameras before launching the system. The bill would also require pictures of the back of a car, not the front, which Owens said would prevent drivers from being racially profiled.
Owens, a Watertown Democrat, told his colleagues that "the time has really come for Massachusetts to join the 26 other states that allow some sort of automated traffic enforcement."
"You guys know that the traffic is back post-pandemic. Drivers are as aggressive as ever. Lately, I talk to people, and when I asked them, 'Do you think drivers have gotten worse since we've gotten back from the pandemic?' everybody seems to agree," Owens said at a Transportation Committee hearing.
Baker included a local-option red light camera system — with no cap on the number of participating communities — in a road safety bill he filed in April 2021. The bill itself died without a vote in the Transportation Committee, though some pieces, such as a minimum passing distance between motorists and cyclists or pedestrians, made it into a law Baker signed just before leaving office.
Stacy Thompson, executive director of the LivableStreets Alliance, praised several components of Owens's bill, including its maximum fine of $25 and language preventing fine revenue from being used to pay for operating the cameras, which she said could "create a cycle of revenue generation."
She spoke on behalf of a coalition that also includes WalkMassachusetts, the Sierra Club, Safe Roads Alliance, Transportation for Massachusetts and the Boston Cyclists Union.
"Generally, we feel that the bill that you have before you is designed to ensure that this type of camera enforcement is first and foremost used as a tool to reduce dangerous driving behavior and has several good provisions to reduce any potential harms or abuses that we have seen in other communities that use cameras," Thompson said.