Jason Y. Sproul

Open letter to Sen. Will Brownsberger on red light cameras

As a constituent and resident of Watertown, and registered Democrat, I’m writing to express my opposition to your automated enforcement “red light camera” bill. Every place that I have seen or read about use of these technologies, it has been a financial disaster for all involved and has done little or nothing to improve collisions, injuries, and fatalities.

There are 3 major reasons why I believe this legislation is misguided.

1. This bill invests public attention and ire on the wrong problem.

We should be focused on creating reliable public transit options that actually serve the majority of commuter needs and reduce traffic, not creating complex legislation to impose small fines that will be subject to endless disputes and waste taxpayer money on all fronts. This bill distracts us from far more important work that will not only save lives but also help to save our climate.

2. Traffic camera solutions impose yet more burdens on poorer citizens of the Commonwealth

Poorer citizens will often pay unjustified fines because they cannot afford the time or money to challenge improper actions by poorly installed, configured, and maintained enforcement infrastructure. They will likely even pay when they should have benefited from one of the many exceptions for lawful, proper, and prudent operation.

Wealthier citizens – who pay as much or more than the per-offense fine just to park in Boston for a day – will treat this as a minor cost of continuing to drive as they please. If anything, they will become even more entitled in their behavior, especially as no points attach to their record.

3. The violations enforced do not even reflect the majority of traffic offenses that I observe causing collisions or creating dangerous situations on a daily basis.

I drive to and from downtown Boston every day, and material violations of red lights (entering more than a fraction of a second after light change) are relatively rare. The motor vehicle misdeeds that create the vast majority of accidents and near-misses that I’ve observed are:

  • Unsafe following
  • Unsafe lane changes on multi-lane roads, including turns across one or more lanes of travel
  • Lane changes within an intersection
  • Operating without regard for right-of-way, e.g. behaving as if signaling requires other drivers to make way
  • Entitled drivers who abuse zipper-merges and turn lanes to jump the queue, often with multiple marked lane violations
  • Unsafe turns, whether a turn is prohibited or not, endangering pedestrians, cyclists, and other motorists
  • Unsafe U-turns, especially where prohibited
  • Operating vehicles at unsafe speeds or changes of direction during inclement weather
  • Ignoring pedestrian right-of-way at unsignalled intersections and crosswalks, especially when visibility to one or both sides of the crosswalk is obstructed
  • Distracted driving including many cases of points above as well as failure to maintain lane, rapid braking disrupting traffic flow, and traveling well below the posted speed limit
  • Vehicles (especially ride-shares) obstructing a lane of travel, encouraging unsafe passing and marked lane violations
  • Entering a traffic box on a green or amber light when congestion in the destination lane guarantees obstructing right-of-way well into the next signal phase
  • Obstructing non-signaled intersections
  • Operating a vehicle in traffic with high-beams on, distracting or blinding both approaching and leading drivers
  • Pedestrians deliberately or through willful negligence (texting, etc.) crossing lanes of travel against signals or entirely outside of any marked crosswalk or curb-cut
  • Traveling in the passing lane on 3+ lane highways even when traffic is not heavy

Only a tiny fraction of the above items would potentially be addressed by your bill.

An added bonus issue: in my experience and observation, cyclists commit the overwhelming majority of instances of offenses addressed by the bill. This creates dangerous conditions and causes collisions either with themselves, with pedestrians, or between motorists responding to their actions. Yet cyclists could not and would not be subject to enforcement. Why are we not investing efforts to improve the safety of cycling with better protection of bike lanes that would also reduce cyclists’ perceived need to commit these offenses?

I hope that you and your colleagues will reconsider this misguided legislation before it’s enacted.

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