Paul Tucker

BOSTON — Lawmakers want Massachusetts to join nearly two dozen states taking pictures of traffic violators who run red lights and make illegal turns.

Several proposals heard by members of the Legislature’s Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security on Wednesday would authorize cities and towns to install “red light cameras” and automatically fine drivers for infractions.

“This is not about revenue,” said Rep. Paul Tucker, D-Salem, a primary sponsor of one of the bills. “It’s about enforcement and making the roads safer.”

Tucker said he has studied the issue both as a Salem police chief and a lawmaker, and said there is ample evidence the systems reduce crashes and save lives.

Under the plan, communities that want automated traffic enforcement would have to “opt in” by holding public hearings and seeking approval from local governing boards to install cameras in specific locations. Local police would be required to review and authorize any citations.

Fines would range from $25 for a first violation to $125 for multiple violations under Tucker’s proposal.

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. Photographs would be required to be destroyed within seven days of a violation being resolved.

Tucker said the proposal would limit communities from installing more than one camera system for every 2,500 residents.

His plan was one of several red light camera bills heard by the committee on Wednesday. Another filed by Sen. William Brownsberger, D-Belmont, would allow communities to install cameras, but caps fines at $25 per violation.

Gov. Charlie Baker filed a similar proposal earlier this year as part of a broader roadway safety bill, but lawmakers haven’t taken any action on it.

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 contractors operate many systems, generating tickets that are then reviewed by police. Tickets arrive by mail, and violators can appeal or pay. The contractor gets a share of ticket revenues to pay for operating the camera system.

Proponents of the high-speed surveillance equipment say it’s 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 United States and an estimated 143,000 injured in red-light running crashes — a 10-year high, according to the American Automobile Association.

Most of those killed were pedestrians, bicyclists and people in other vehicles.

To be sure, the technology has critics, including Libertarians who complain the real purpose is to raise money for police and local governments.

Critics point to research showing a rise in rear-end collisions caused by motorists hitting the brakes to avoid getting a ticket in places where the cameras are in use.

But supporters say the overwhelming evidence is that the cameras act as a deterrent and saves lives.

Emily Stein, president of the Safe Roads Alliance, was one of several road-safety advocates who spoke in support of Tucker’s proposal at Wednesday’s hearing.

“When properly employed, automated enforcement has been shown to effectively reduce unsafe driving behavior, the number of crashes as well as the severity of crash injuries,” Stein told the panel. “The goal is not generate income. It is to educate drivers and help them to change their behavior.”

Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at cwade@northofboston.com.

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