On May 1, 2024
Local News

Slow down, you’re on camera! Bill would put speed cameras in work zones

By Holly Sullivan, Community News Service

Editor’s note: The Community News Service is a program in which University of Vermont students work with professional editors to provide content for local news outlets at no cost.

Ever whizzed through a work zone when it seems no one is looking? Even with no cops around, your speeding could get you a ticket if a bill this session becomes law.

S.184 would put automated law enforcement cameras in work zones on Vermont’s limited-access highways, such as Interstates 89 and 91, where speeds are higher and drivers can be more reckless. The camera rigs can read speeds, and if one catches you driving more than 10 mph over the limit, it takes a photo of your license plate. Within 30 days, you’ll get a ticket in the mail. 

The first violation would yield only a warning, but if you’re caught again, you’d be charged $80. A third offense and onward comes with a $160 fine. The bill says cameras would only be on while crews are out in the work zone.

Lawmakers are framing S.184 — now in the House after passing the Senate last month — as a 16- to18-month pilot program. Over that span, officials would track how the public responds to automated law enforcement, as well as its impact on road safety. 

The bill is partially a response to the death of James Alger, a Vermont traffic flagger hit and killed by a vehicle in 2019. 

“Speeding is a factor in 41% of traffic fatalities in Vermont compared to 29% nationally,” said Omar Masood, director of state government relations for lobbying group Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, in an April 10 meeting. “Each death is a family member, friend and valued community member who has needlessly died in a preventable crash.” 

Multiple states have adopted similar legislation. Elizabeth Keyes, chief of legal and regulatory affairs for Connecticut Department of Transportation, Zoomed into the Statehouse on April 4, recapping Connecticut’s experience with its law. 

“People are driving faster, cars are being made heavier, it’s taking longer for them to stop or slow down,” Keyes said. “We really saw a huge need to change driver behavior.” 

Connecticut started using automated law enforcement in January, and Keyes said the state is already seeing results. Around 2.6 million vehicles have driven by the cameras, about 500,000 of which were speeding — or about 19%. Close to 24,000 drivers were going 15 mph over the speed limit and were mailed warnings. 

But only 659 motorists ended up getting citations, demonstrating that drivers changed their behavior when they found out they were being watched, Keyes said. 

“It’s not a ‘gotcha’ program,” she said. “We want people to be aware of it. We want people to change their behavior.”

Under the Vermont plan, signs would warn drivers of cameras in a work zone ahead and indicate whether the systems are active.

The response from the public in Connecticut has ranged from neutral to positive, Keyes said. 

“Cops are a good deterrent, and for emergency responses. For catching speeders they’re expensive and impractical,” one Connecticut community member said in a survey conducted by that state. 

“People are driving like animals and are a danger to everyone. I’m all for anything to curb this,” another person commented. 

Former flagger Glenn Morris spoke to representatives April 9, explaining his firsthand experience with road safety. 

“I started as a flagger on the road with everyone else. One thing that appealed to me about that work was knowing that, at the end of the day, I was making a difference,” he said. 

At Morris’s current job as an ambassador for worker safety ADA Traffic Control, a flagging company out of Colchester, he sees dangerous driving at work zones all the time. Morris said that, in just the past month, he had three calls for near misses, cars speeding past a flagger’s sign and having to skid to a stop. 

“It’s not just danger to the flagger, it’s also danger to the driver,” said Matt Musgrave, government affairs director for the Associated General Contractors of Vermont, in the same meeting. “If you go through, past a flagger and you didn’t stop, there could be a gaping pit in the middle of the road you could drive into.”

Chuck Farmer, vice president of research and statistical services for the industry nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, hopes S.184 combats risky driving. 

“Go back to when you were a kid,” he told representatives April 10. “If you think your parents are looking, then you behave yourselves. Whether or not they are, it doesn’t really matter.”

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