BOSTON — Gov. Charlie Baker wants Massachusetts to join nearly two-dozen states that snap pictures of traffic scofflaws who run red lights and make illegal turns.
Baker has proposed authorizing cities and towns to install cameras and automatically fine drivers who are photographed making infractions. Fines would be capped at $25 per violation under his proposal.
The changes are part of a larger bill filed by Baker in April that would update laws on seat belt enforcement, increase fines and penalties for driving on a suspended license, and make other changes aimed at improving roadway safety.
Baker said the bill, if enacted, will “make Massachusetts roadways and streets safer for all travelers and will help reduce roadway fatalities across the state.”
Under the plan, communities that want automated traffic enforcement would have to hold public hearings and seek approval from local governing boards to install cameras at specific locations. Local police would be required to review and authorize any citations.
Violations caught on camera wouldn’t result in insurance surcharges, nor would they become part of driving records kept by the Registry of Motor Vehicles.
The proposal includes a process for appealing tickets. Photos would be required to be destroyed within seven days of a violation being resolved.
Baker filed a similar bill affecting driving laws in the previous legislative session, but this is the first time his administration has proposed red-light cameras.
At least 23 states, including Rhode Island, have passed laws allowing the use of traffic enforcement cameras, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Private companies operate many of the camera systems, generating tickets that are then reviewed by police. Tickets are sent to drivers by mail, and violators can pay or appeal. The company gets a share of ticket revenues to pay for operating the camera system.
Proponents of the high-speed surveillance cameras say they are a proven way to save lives by reducing red-light runners, who are a leading cause of fatal crashes.
In 2019, at least 846 people were killed in the U.S. and an estimated 143,000 injured in red-light-running crashes — a 10-year high, according to the American Automobile Association.
Most of the people killed were pedestrians, bicyclists, and passengers and drivers in other vehicles.
“There’s no doubt that red-light running is a killer,” said Mary Maguire, AAA spokeswoman for the northeast region. “Twenty-eight percent of crash deaths that occur at signalized intersections are the result of a driver running a red light.”
But the technology has critics, including libertarians who complain the real purpose of the cameras is to raise money for police and local governments.
Critics point to research showing a rise in rear-end collisions caused by drivers hitting the brakes to avoid getting a ticket in places where the cameras are used.
But supporters say the overwhelming evidence is that the cameras act as a deterrent and save lives.
Rep. Paul Tucker, D-Salem, is among lawmakers who support the use of red-light cameras and has filed his own proposal to authorize them. He studied the issue as a Salem police chief and said there is plenty of evidence the cameras work.
“What people need to understand is that it’s not about revenue — it does reduce crashes,” Tucker said. “If you look at the communities that have installed these enforcement cameras, it’s very clear that it works.”
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.