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California Governor Decides Fate of Speed Cameras in Six Cities

A bill that for the first time in California history would authorize speed cameras on roadways in six selected cities passed both houses in Sacramento last week and is now on Gov. Gavin Newsom's desk.

Speed Cameras Flickr
(TNS) — A bill that for the first time in California history would authorize speed cameras on roadways in six selected cities passed both houses in Sacramento last week and is now on Gov. Gavin Newsom's desk awaiting his signature.

Assembly Bill 645, by principal author Assemblywoman Laura Friedman, D-Glendale, represents the eighth attempt to bring speed cameras to California since 2005 and the first to make it all the way to the desk of the governor. Gov. Gavin Newsom has until Oct. 14 to sign the bill into law or veto it.

"We need new tools in our toolbox to stop traffic violence and the senseless loss of human life," Friedman said in a statement. "I am confident the governor will sign AB 645 into law."

While there's no word from the governor's office about which way he's leaning, Friedman said many of the provisions in her bill are included in a report from the California State Transportation Agency's "Zero Traffic Fatalities Task Force."

That report found that studies show roadway systems that try to slow down drivers "are an effective countermeasure to speeding" if they use cameras that automatically snap a picture of the car's license plate and deliver a citation to the registered owner through the mail.

If signed, sending citations to speeding motorists without the presence of law enforcement would become legal in California for the first time. But the bill is a pilot, meaning only these six cities would get authorization: Los Angeles, Long Beach, Glendale, San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose.

Many of these cities have seen dramatic increases in traffic fatalities caused by speeders, and also caused by street takeovers and illegal street racing.

From 2005 to 2014, 112,580 Americans were killed in traffic collisions in which speeding was a factor, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. Pedestrian deaths have increased 77% from 2010 to 2021 in the U.S., according to a Governors Highway Safety Association study.

Studies found that in California, Black pedestrians are 62% more likely to be killed by vehicles than white Californians. In L.A., Blacks account for 15% of all pedestrian deaths, but only 9% of the population.

Los Angeles had 312 traffic fatalities in 2022 — a record. According to analysis from Streets Are for Everyone (SAFE), a supporter of the bill, speed was the biggest factor in nearly one-third of all traffic collisions in L.A. every year since 2011. As of Aug. 26, L.A. has topped 200 traffic fatalities in 2023.

The six cities affected by Assembly Bill 645 asked to be included in the pilot program and are speaking out in favor to influence the governor's decision and to start their own programs.

"Years of national research, the laws of physics, and common sense all point to an established fact about street safety: the faster people drive, the more dangerous and deadly our roads become," said Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass in a statement. "Speed is the number one factor in crash severity."

A person struck by a vehicle going 20 mph has a 5% chance of dying. Someone hit by a vehicle traveling 40 mph has an 80% chance of dying, according to statistics provided by SAFE.

Long Beach Mayor Rex Richardson said that while bicyclists, pedestrians and motorcyclists equal 14% of all road users, they make up 65% of serious crash injury victims in his city. In San Jose, traffic deaths outpace homicide victims.

Under AB 645, L.A. can install 125 speed cameras whose cost is yet unknown. Money from citations would be used to pay for the speed cameras, and any leftover funds would be put into traffic calming measures, not into a city's general fund.

Civil penalties would vary depending on how much the driver exceeds the posted speed limit. Citations would be $50 for going 11 to 15 miles per hour over the speed limit, $100 for going 16 to 25 mph over, $200 for going 26 mph over or more, and $500 for driving 100 mph over the speed limit or greater. The first citation is a warning.

Being limited in scope, and only allowing speed cameras in cities that asked for them, has added to this iteration's passage in the state Legislature. And many legislators, both Democrats and Republicans, believe law enforcement has become lax in dealing with speeders, and that there's a post-pandemic tendency to drive faster and more recklessly. Also, more people are walking and riding bicycles, something that started during the first two years of the pandemic and has continued.

Escalating rates of traffic collisions resulting in serious injuries or fatalities, including traffic deaths of pedestrians and bicycle riders, have galvanized a safer streets movement asking for speed cameras.

AB 645 is supported by Streets Are for Everyone (SAFE), Streets For All, Bay Area Families for Safer Streets, San Francisco Mayor London Breed, L.A. Mayor Bass, Long Beach Mayor Rex Richardson, Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao, Glendale Mayor Dan Brotman, AAA, San Jose Police Officers Association, Glendale Police Chief Manuel Cid, L.A. Unified School District and the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.

"We need more tools to address this public health crisis on our roads," said Damian Kevitt, executive director of SAFE on Monday, Sept. 18. "People are being hit and killed on our roads on a daily basis."

Opponents include some police officer unions who are concerned that machines would replace traffic officers. The American Civil Liberties Union has also opposed this measure, and others like it, for fear that it would increase government surveillance and raise serious privacy issues that could result in misused data.

Friedman countered by saying her bill prohibits facial recognition technology. The bill also states that all data must be deleted in five days if no data was used, and within 60 days if a ticket was issued. The ACLU has instead pushed for street improvements, such as speed bumps and signs to slow down riders.

Speed cameras in 140 other communities are credited with reducing traffic collisions and resulting fatalities. In Scottsdale, Arizona and Portland, Oregon, traffic fatalities have fallen 54% since the cameras were instituted. In Washington D.C, traffic fatalities decreased by 70%. In New York City, a 73% drop in speeding is attributed to speed cameras, Friedman reported.

© 2023 The Whittier Daily News, Calif. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.