In Massachusetts and Rhode Island, Quite Different Messages on Automated Speed Enforcement for Back to School

Automated Speed EnforcementAs the school year begins, the City of Providence has announced plans to resume and expand its use of speed camera surveillance on school days. The goal is to encourage drivers to slow down and protect students and other pedestrians from car accidents and serious injuries.

Providence – which began using speed cameras in 2018 – has a powerful enforcement tool. When drivers speed through a camera location, there is no traffic stop, no police confrontation, no blue lights. Police don’t have to navigate around other drivers, pedestrians or cyclists to make a traffic stop. The city can simply send drivers who speed a message – by way of a $50 fine – later in the mail. Drivers who are caught traveling 11 mph or more over the speed limit are subject to the fines.

These fines are adding up. In Providence, the city issued $8.1 million in fines for speeding between January 2021 and June 2022, according to a local news report.

The Rhode Island General Assembly passed the law paving the way for communities to introduce speed cameras back in 2016. The law was passed with school children in mind. Communities can only use speed cameras in school zones, with use restricted to the hours of 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. on school days.

At the start of each school year, Rhode Island communities usually remind the public about the use of speed cameras and publish camera locations online or in local newspapers. Here is this year’s announcement from the City of Providence.

Across state lines, Massachusetts police officers are still out on patrol, making old-fashioned traffic stops.

Change may be ahead though. The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) has shared plans to work with municipal partners and develop prospective pilot programs to test technologies and make recommendations to the state legislature.

The state’s 2023 strategic highway safety plan acknowledges concerns about equity in enforcement and stated “automated enforcement must not be used as a source of revenue.” Recently, all the money – millions of dollars generated by speeding – has come under scrutiny in Rhode Island.

Automated Speed Enforcement Laws Across New England and the United States

Over the past 20 years, research has consistently shown automated speed enforcement laws are an effective tool in reducing speed and saving lives. There are many success stories, from one of the earliest studies out of Montgomery County in Maryland to New York City, which now operates 24-7 speed cameras in school zones. In the first year, New York City saw a 30 percent reduction in speeding and a 25 percent decline in traffic deaths.

Across the U.S., 22 states have passed laws allowing red light cameras, while 18 have passed speed camera laws, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA). Many states have laws specific to school or work zones. Some of these laws reach statewide. Some allow local communities to take the lead.

Across New England, there is a notable divide on the use of automated speed enforcement systems.

Rhode Island permits the use of speed and red light enforcement cameras. Connecticut’s new statewide camera laws take effect on Oct. 1. Meanwhile, New Hampshire and Maine have actually passed laws which prohibit use of these technologies for traffic enforcement. Massachusetts and Vermont have not passed any laws (Source: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety – IIHS).

In Massachusetts, lawmakers have tried. One Massachusetts lawmaker has filed multiple bills, specifically related to red light cameras. Read about his work on his blog.

Common Complaints About Automated Speed Enforcement

If you think about how much time police spend on patrol, it’s easy to support the idea of speed cameras. Technology makes the work of speed enforcement more manageable and reaches more drivers than a police patrol ever could. This contributes to safer roads, fewer car accidents and a better quality of life, because communities can finally do something to address speeding.

Yet the concerns are great and you realize them all at once when you receive a speeding ticket in the mail. How accurate is the technology? Does anyone check the speed camera photos? Were other drivers cited or just me? And is this traffic enforcement or “policing for profit?”

In Rhode Island, Providence, Pawtucket and other cities have generated millions of dollars in speeding fines since 2018. A local news station looked closer into the dollar and cents in March 2023 and found it’s not just communities making money. Many city contracts allow speed camera companies to take fixed monthly fees for the cameras – and a percentage of each $50 fine drivers pay.

For example, the news coverage revealed the City of Providence was paying its vendor $2,978 per camera as of March 2023. For every $50 fine, the vendor receives $7.85. The City said the fees covered administrative costs.

The 2016 law specifically states contracts between cities and vendors “shall not be based on a percentage of the revenue generated by the automated school zone speed enforcement system.”

What is Helping the Discussion on Speed Cameras?

As the public debates, the Biden administration has allowed states to start accessing federal funds for speed cameras through the infrastructure law.

And the public continues to learn about cameras. Transparency changes views.

In Massachusetts, the news media closely followed last fall as MassDOT announced plans to move ahead with a 5-year pilot program placing wrong-way cameras on 16 highway ramps. The pilot was announced last November, just before the Thanksgiving holiday week.

We encourage you to check out this video clip from one news station. The reporter offers a closer look at how the wrong-way camera technology will work. This is helpful for anyone who wants to understand a little more about traffic safety.

About Breakstone, White & Gluck – Experienced in Helping Clients Injured in Car Accidents in Massachusetts and Rhode Island

Founded in 1992, Breakstone, White & Gluck is a Boston-based law firm which represents plaintiffs in personal injury claims. Consistently recognized by The Best Lawyers of America and Super Lawyers, our three partners have decades of experience representing clients who have been seriously injured in negligent driving as well as families who have lost a loved one due to wrongful death.

We offer expertise in handling claims arising out of motor vehicle crashes, bicycle accidents and pedestrian injuries at all stages, from investigation to negotiation with insurance companies to trial and appeal, if necessary.

Our firm’s partners have each been licensed to practice law in Massachusetts for more than 35 years. Our firm’s associate attorney is licensed to practice law in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

If you have been injured, we invite you to reach out to our attorneys and learn your legal rights. Call Breakstone, White & Gluck at 800-379-1244 or 617-723-7676 or use our contact form.