Hamden traffic light cameras not for ticketing drivers- state

By Jeremy Troetti

The operation is simple. A driver runs a red light and in an instant, a camera flash records the incident. The driver then receives a ticket in the mail.

Photo via Jeremy Troetti

Photo via Jeremy Troetti

Despite a Feb. 11 report by NBC Connecticut detailing mayor Curt Leng’s plan to have new traffic light cameras catch red light offenders on Whitney and Dixwell avenues, the use of cameras for that purpose is not permitted by Connecticut state law.

As of December 2018, 21 U.S. states, along with the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands, have some form of red light camera detection systems, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.

According to Connecticut Department of Transportation spokesman Kevin Nursick, the traffic cameras in Hamden are being used to monitor traffic flow.

“These are not enforcement cameras,” Nursick said. “They are not to scan people’s license plates or taking pictures or anything of that nature. They are detection cameras.”

Nursick explained that the cameras are being installed all across the state to replace loop detectors – aging in-ground traffic signal technology that is no longer able to operate adequately.

“We have been moving toward installing cameras in place of the loop detector systems across the state, and we’ve got a lot of work to do still, but we’re slowly making headway in terms of transitioning from loop detector systems to the camera systems,” he explained.

Although the cameras are not being utilized for detecting red light offenses at this time, 22-year-old Quinnipiac student, and Connecticut resident, David Gassel, does see potential in using the cameras for more than just managing traffic.

“If they used them to monitor potential accidents, and they catch a drunk driver running a red light, they could use that in the case against them,” Gassel said. “I think that could be a good use for (the cameras).”

As for why loop detector systems are being replaced statewide at this time, Nursick explained that a string of recent complaints has expedited the camera installations.

“The loop detectors are probably the single biggest failure issue that we have with traffic signals across the state of Connecticut,” Nursick said. “We’ll get complaints from people… they’ll call us up and say ‘Hey, I was out at this traffic light at 11 p.m. and there’s no traffic and it’s making me sit there for two minutes before it turns green’ or ‘Hey, in the middle of rush hour, we’re getting off the exit ramp and this light just isn’t turning for us.”

Nursick also raved about the new technology’s ability to offer real-time access to the Connecticut Department of Transportation – allowing the department to monitor potential traffic issues, something loop detectors cannot do.

“They are much less prone to failure and the technology is really improving on these things – you can access them remotely and make adjustments,” he said. “You can remotely monitor them to make sure they are functioning properly.”

Gassel feels that having the Department of Transportation monitor the cameras can have additional benefits beyond traffic management.

“If they’re using them like they say they are, it gives someone a job… someone has to check that camera. It puts money on someone’s table.”

While loop detectors are able to sense vehicle movement through an underground wiring system, the new traffic light cameras allow for easier digital detection of traffic flow due to 360 degree viewing capabilities.

“If you looked at one of the screens from these things, it basically sets up a customized grid for each location and it digitally sees vehicles at the intersection and it sends that information to what we call the control cabinet, which typically looks like a metal cabinet somewhere near that intersection,” Nursick explained.

In addition to regular traffic jams, Nursick explained that other factors, such as construction, could impact the capabilities of loop detectors.

“You still have the traffic signal there operating with the loop detector, even if you mill the thing out when you’re ready to pave, but you have to go to a pre-programmed, one-size-fits-all setting on the traffic signal – and that doesn’t work very well,” he said. “It is not dynamic, it is not live, it is not real-time, dynamic capability. So it causes problems. And that contributes to congestion.”

While the new camera systems have been installed at locations across the state, the cameras in Hamden are maintained by the town’s Department of Traffic.

The Hamden Department of Traffic has yet to respond to inquiries regarding the matter.

HamdenShayla Colon