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Lawmaker puts the brakes on automated speed enforcement

Sen. Jim Seveney vows to pull bill after most council members speak out against it

By Jim McGaw
Posted 2/14/21

PORTSMOUTH — A bill authorizing automated speed camera-enforcement systems in not only school zones but on all state and local roads in Rhode Island seems to have hit the skids, at …

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Lawmaker puts the brakes on automated speed enforcement

Sen. Jim Seveney vows to pull bill after most council members speak out against it

Posted

PORTSMOUTH — A bill authorizing automated speed camera-enforcement systems in not only school zones but on all state and local roads in Rhode Island seems to have hit the skids, at least for now. 

Sen. Jim Seveney (D-Dist. 11-Bristol, Portsmouth, Tiverton) was the lead sponsor of a Senate bill (2021-S0064) introduced Jan. 19 and referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee. On Feb. 8 he came before the Town Council in hopes of getting the body to approve a resolution in support of the measure.

The resolution’s language pointed out the dangerous hazards for both motorists and pedestrians along East Main and West Main roads in Portsmouth, as well as other state and local roads in town. 

Last year, the R.I. Department of Transportation (RIDOT) conducted a roadway safety assessment of East Main Road, from Turnpike Avenue to the Middletown town line, which determined that a road diet — such as the one implemented on Bristol Ferry Road — was not a feasible option to improve safety on that route. (In January, the council requested a similar safety assessment for West Main Road.)

According to the resolution in support of Sen. Seveney’s bill, automated speed-enforcement systems on all state and local roads would provide police an important and effective additional tool to enforce speeding laws.

“Speeding by motorists on East Main Road, West Main Road, and other roads in Portsmouth has been, and continues to be, a significant problem endangering the safety of the traveling public and pedestrians,” the resolution stated.

Another Portsmouth lawmaker, Rep. Terri Cortvriend (D-Dist. 72-Portsmouth, Middletown), said she had similar legislation drafted but was waiting for RIDOT input before submitting it in the House of Representatives. While the Rhode Island Traffic Safety Coalition was supportive of the idea, Rep. Cortvriend said it was up to the Town Council to say yay or nay.

Most council members, however, were skeptical of the effectiveness of automated systems, which some said could also be misused. 

Council member Daniela Abbott said she once lived in a community that used traffic cameras to catch speeders, but they were considered somewhat of a “joke.” Not only were they ineffective — drivers would slow down when approaching the cameras and then speed back up again — they added to visual pollution, she said.

Another council member, Keith Hamilton, also was opposed to the automated systems. 

“I don’t like people being ticketed by faceless machines,” said Mr. Hamilton. “It’s being abused in Providence, not that our police would abuse it. Raise the fines or take away people’s licenses, but automatic speed traps are just not a viable solution to me.”

Local resident Larry Fitzmorris agreed. 

“I don’t think Portsmouth is the right community for automated ticketing systems. We don’t need the money so bad that we have to get involved in these games,” said Mr. Fitzmorris, adding he was also concerned about privacy issues and the potential for images of vehicles and drivers “streaming all over the place.”

Sen. Seveney said the safety audit made it clear there is a problem with speeding on East Main Road, and that a road diet would not work as a “traffic calming” device. “The intent is not for this to be a revenue-generating device,” he added, saying the problems being seen in Providence are due to mismanagement rather than anything nefarious.

As for the privacy issue raised by Mr. Fitzmorris, Sen. Seveney said the automated systems along roadways — as opposed to those around toll centers — take photos of just license plates, not drivers. 

Chief in favor

Police Chief Brian Peters spoke in favor of the bill, saying any speeding fine would be a flat fee of $50 regardless of how fast a vehicle was traveling. “It’s just another tool in the toolbox to do what we an to make the roadways more safe in Portsmouth,” Chief Peters said, adding the systems have proven to be effective in slowing down drivers.

The council voted 4-3 against the resolution to support the legislation. Mr. Hamilton, Ms. Abbott and council members Michael Buddemeyer and Andrew Kelly voted against the resolution, while Council President Kevin Aguiar, Vice President Linda Ujifusa and J. Mark Ryan supported it.

Sen. Seveney said since the council majority did not support the resolution, he would pull the bill.

“This is the process,” he said.

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Meet our staff
Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.