California Lawmakers Consider Pilot Program to Use Cameras for Traffic Enforcement

California Lawmakers Consider Pilot Program to Use Cameras for Traffic Enforcement

A worker fixes a traffic camera in Anaheim, Calif., on Feb. 23, 2021. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Jill McLaughlin

Jill McLaughlin

7/14/2023

Updated: 12/30/2023

A proposed five-year pilot program that calls for using traffic cameras to issue automatic tickets to speeding drivers traveling more than 10 miles per hour over the limit in California is close to approval in the state’s Legislature.
Assembly Bill 645 passed a second Senate hearing in the Judiciary Committee July 11 after clearing the Senate’s Transportation Committee June 27. The State Assembly approved the bill on May 31.
The Legislature began its summer recess July 13 and isn’t expected back until Sept. 1, when the measure will be scheduled for a Senate Floor hearing.
Although red-light cameras are legal in the state, speed cameras are not. The bill, if signed into law, could change that.
The measure would allow the cities of Los Angeles, Long Beach, Glendale, Oakland, and San Jose—and San Francisco city and county—to operate the five-year pilot programs. All of the local governments filed letters of support for the measure.
Some have expressed concern regarding privacy issues related to the bill. But its author, Assemblywoman Laura Friedman (D-Glendale), told Senate Judiciary Committee members those concerns have been addressed.
“I believe that what we’ve been able to create through the interactions that we’ve had with stakeholders is really a model ordinance for the entire nation,” Ms. Friedman told Senate Judiciary Committee members July 11.
Local jurisdictions will run and pay for the pilot programs, which will be operated by city departments, not law enforcement, according to Ms. Friedman.
A file photo of a camera in London. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

A file photo of a camera in London. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

The cost to each local jurisdiction is unknown but would be significant, according to a legislative analysis by the Assembly’s Appropriations Committee. The bill does not obligate any local government to implement the program and the state would not cover any costs or reimburse them. However, local jurisdictions could apply for federal highway grants.
A similar speed camera program in New York City cost over $162 million including a yearly operating cost of $104 million, according to the United States Department of Transportation.
The cameras would be placed in areas of increased concern, such as school zones, and only take photos of a speeding vehicle’s rear bumper and license plate.
Photos would be deleted and purged five days after they are captured if no ticket is issued, eliminating some privacy concerns, the author said. If a violation is sent to the car’s owner, photos would be kept for 90 days but not shared with law enforcement, although some could be kept for up to three years in certain circumstances, she said.
“I just want to make sure that we are taking every measure possible to try to think about how we can limit privacy issues,” Ms. Friedman added.
With the proposed pilot program, only vehicles driving more than 10 miles over the speed limit could be cited. The first citation would be a warning. After that, fines start at $50 and could reach $500 for subsequent tickets, but the cost could be offset or reduced for low-income violators.
A ticket would be sent within 15 days and include a photo of the license plate and rear of the vehicle, the camera location, and date and time the violation occurred, along with the cost of the penalty.
Vehicle owners who receive a citation would have 30 days to request a review at no charge. Owners could also request an administrative hearing of the violation.
According to the bill analysis, photos and records of the violation would be confidential and citations could not be used to suspend or revoke a driver’s license, or to assess points against the driver.
The cameras would not be placed on freeways or expressways, U.S. highways, interstates or public roads in an unincorporated county, according to a legislative bill analysis.
Any funds collected would be used for each local jurisdiction’s road maintenance or programs to reduce speeding.
Traffic comes to a standstill on the northbound and the southbound lanes of the Interstate 405 freeway near Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles, Calif., on Nov. 23, 2011. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Traffic comes to a standstill on the northbound and the southbound lanes of the Interstate 405 freeway near Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles, Calif., on Nov. 23, 2011. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Several cities, counties, and organizations support the bill. Oakland Mayor Sheung Thao, in a letter to Ms. Friedman, said the program would help protect travelers and pedestrians.
“Implicit and explicit racial bias in police traffic stops frequently puts drivers of color at risk,” Ms. Thao wrote in the letter. “We support this legislation because it proposes an alternative to traditional enforcement that will protect public safety while being responsive to community needs. The local street pilots under this program must be run by administrative transportation or public works department, not law enforcement which is very important within Oakland.”
Speed safety systems are used in over 150 communities across the United States, and more recently became eligible for federal funding under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act as part of a new nationwide goal to achieve zero traffic fatalities, Ms. Friedman said in a statement about the bill.
“It is finally time for California to join 17 other states and authorize the use of speed safety systems,” she said.
The bill was co-sponsored by Streets For All, a Los Angeles-based political action committee that supports progressive candidates to create an anti-automobile transportation “revolution” and culture change in the city.
A committee of the Los Angeles City Council voted in support of the resolution in June. The issue will now be heard by the full city council but the city’s mayor, Karen Bass, has already voiced her support.
“Jurisdictions suffering from high levels of avoidable fatal and severe collisions are desperate for additional tools to being the number of traffic deaths down to zero,” Ms. Bass wrote in a support letter to the bill’s legislative file. “Many streets with the highest incidents of fatal and severe crashes are in regionally identified Communities of Concern, where a high percentage of households with minority or low-income status, seniors, people with limited English proficiency, and people with disabilities reside and are disproportionately impacted.”
Traffic crosses the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge in San Francisco, Calif., on June 14, 2021. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Traffic crosses the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge in San Francisco, Calif., on June 14, 2021. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

However, the measure has received pushback from law enforcement groups and the ACLU.
The Peace Officers’ Research Association of California has opposed the measure, citing concerns about the cameras replacing officers.
“Although the sponsor cities claim that these cameras would not be used to replace officers on the streets, who are used for much more than just traffic duties, it has come to [our] attention that the City of Oakland is planning to eliminate the Police Department’s entire traffic division due to a budget shortage and with the anticipation of the passage of AB 645, even though this bill is supposed to be a ‘pilot project,” the association said, according to the bill analysis.
It has asked that Oakland be removed from the bill or for the sponsor cities to be asked to negotiate with local labor.
ACLU California Action additionally opposes the bill on privacy grounds, according to the organization’s legislative advocate Becca Cramer-Mowder.
“While we applaud the author’s goal of eliminating traffic fatalities caused by speeding, we have concerns with the way that AB 645 tries to solve the problem,” Ms. Cramer-Mowder told the Senate Judiciary Committee July 11. “Automated enforcement mechanisms often disproportionately ticket drivers and communities of color and communities experiencing poverty.”
The bill relies on surveillance-automated enforcement and increased ticketing, and the costs for the program will be paid by those who receive citations, she added.
The Western States Trucking Association, a national trucking industry group, also opposed the bill, saying it went overboard.
“It authorizes an undefined number of speed cameras to enforce any speed law, either through a fixed or mobile radar or laser system or any other electronic device, within [six] California cities,” the trucking association said in a statement.
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Jill McLaughlin

Jill McLaughlin

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Jill McLaughlin is an award-winning journalist covering politics, environment, and statewide issues. She has been a reporter and editor for newspapers in Oregon, Nevada, and New Mexico. Jill was born in Yosemite National Park and enjoys the majestic outdoors, traveling, golfing, and hiking.

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