State looks to snapshot traffic speeders

Permanent Speed Camera placed on W. Visalia Parkway near Cottonwood Creek Elementary reminds drivers to monitor their speed when entering a school zone.(Kenny Goodman)

Assembly Bill 645 seeks to install speed limit cameras at priority safety corridors to reduce traffic incidents; awaits the red or green light from Gov. Newsom

SACRAMENTO – With approval earlier this month from the Assembly and Senate, California is a step closer to rolling out a traffic camera pilot program in six jurisdictions.

On Sept. 12, the California Senate passed Assembly Bill (AB) 645 – the Speed Safety System Pilot Program. The California Assembly passed the bill the following day. Governor Newsom has until Oct. 14 to sign the bill into law.

Introduced by Assemblymember Laura Friedman, 44th District, AB 645 would allow Los Angeles, San Jose, Oakland, Glendale, Long Beach and San Francisco – city and county – to set up traffic cameras in high traffic corridors to photograph the rear license plates of vehicles speeding 11 miles per hour or higher over the speed limit.

According to the bill’s text, during the first 60 days of the program, violators would not be cited but only receive traffic notifications. After 60 days, fines would be based on rates of speed in excess of posted speed limits.

The Times reached out to the Fresno Police Department for comment but was told that it was department policy not to comment on pending legislation. The Visalia Police Department had not replied to media inquiries as of report.

Cities with populations between 300,000 and 800,000 – like Fresno, which has a population of over 545,000 according to the U.S. Census Bureau as of 2022 data – may have no more than 18 systems.

Cities with smaller populations that fall under 300,000 may have no more than nine traffic systems. This puts cities like Visalia, with a population count near 144,000, and communities like Sanger and Reedley, which have a population around approximately 26,000 each, in this category.

According to the bill’s text, larger jurisdictions with a population of 3 million or higher may have up to 125 traffic systems. Cities with populations between 800,000 and 3 million may have up to 33 systems.

SPEED KILLS

In her Sept. 13 press release, Friedman said, “The data is unequivocal and resounding: speed kills.” In an earlier press release, Friedman said, “For too long, we have referred to most of these deaths as ‘accidents’ to sweep under the rug the uncomfortable truth: these deaths are preventable. Slowing cars down is imperative to saving lives.”

The press releases included statistics from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to support Friedman’s claims. According to the NTSB, in 2021, more than 42,000 Americans died as a result of traffic accidents – a 10.5% increase over 2020. In California, traffic deaths and serious injuries increased over 15% from 2020 to 2021.

Kerri West, press spokesperson for Friedman, said five of the six jurisdictions were selected because they have high incidents of speeding and other unsafe traffic conditions, including sideshows. West said Glendale was chosen because it is in Friedman’s district and the city has a reputation for dangerous drivers.

According to a 2017 Los Angeles Times article, drivers in Glendale were 83% more likely to have a traffic accident than drivers across the US.

In his Aug. 10 press release, Long Beach Mayor Rex Richardson said, “While bicyclists, pedestrians, and motorcyclists comprise just 14%of all road users, they make up 65% of Long Beach’s serious injury crash victims.”

HOW IT WORKS

Assuming Newsom approves the bill, the program will run for five years, or until Jan. 1, 2032 – whichever comes sooner. West said it is entirely possible the 2032 date may be the earlier date for some cities because of the time it will take for all the disparate parts of the program to come together.

Before a city can roll out its cameras, it must give 30 days’ notice to the public. Each program will have a website that must contain information on the location of the cameras. But after the initial disclosure of information, a city does not have to provide the public with any additional information if it adds more cameras.

Cameras will photograph rear license plates. They will not photograph rear windows of vehicles. Photographs and other evidence will be destroyed 60 days after the traffic ticket has been paid or an agreement has been reached. Administrative records may be kept for up to three years.

COMMUNITIES OF COLOR AND IMPACT REPORTS

“Traditional enforcement methods have had a well-documented disparate impact on communities of color, and implicit or explicit racial bias in police traffic stops put drivers of color at risk,” according to the bill’s text.

When asked about this section in the bill, West said the goal of AB 645 is to reduce traffic injuries and fatalities. She did say that some communities experience a disproportionately high number of traffic citations.

AB 645 requires each city to develop a Speed Safety System Impact Report prior to deploying its program. The report must include information on how the program works, the costs involved for running the system, locations of the cameras and if “potential deployment locations of systems are predominantly in low-income neighborhoods, a determination of why these locations experience high fatality and injury collisions due to unsafe speed.”

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