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  • Writer's pictureMario Valadez

Slowing Cars with Cameras: New Bill Addresses Fair Deployment in the Fight to Reduce Fatal Crashes

Updated: Aug 3, 2023

Update: AB 645 has made it through the policy committees in both the assembly and the senate. Up next, we expect a decision from the Senate Appropriations Committee on Monday, August 21st.

California has a major speeding problem. A driver’s speed remains the highest determining factor of the severity of a crash, especially a fatal one. At least 4,379 Californians lost their lives in traffic collisions in 2021, a 15 percent increase from the year before. And 1,275 of those lost were pedestrians and bicyclists.

These unacceptable and preventable deaths are the reason California legislators have been advocating for speed enforcement cameras for years. These tools have proven effective to slow down drivers and reduce fatal crashes in cities such as Chicago and New York.

Select California cities are closer than ever to deploying automated speed enforcement cameras. Assemblymember Laura Friedman’s AB 645 would enable Glendale, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Oakland, San Francisco, and San Jose to use these speed enforcement cameras on certain city streets defined as “safety corridors.” AB 645 recently passed out of the Assembly Appropriations committee, a major hurdle. Three previous versions of the bill (Friedman’s AB 2336 and Assemblymember David Chiu’s AB 550 and AB 342) failed to pass through the said committee without a vote or public explanation.

As a three-year pilot program, AB 645 would allow cities to add speed safety cameras on streets that have the highest rates of crashes and incidents of speeding, as well as school zones. To ensure strong accountability, participating cities must develop a Speed Safety System Use Policy and Speed Safety Impact Report that explains how the cameras will be deployed. Cities must develop these documents in collaboration with local racial equity and privacy protection groups.

Deploying Cameras Fairly

Because the placement of speed safety cameras and the cost of fines worried many advocacy groups, the bill has been amended to address concerns around digital privacy and equity, although a few groups are still opposed. These rules are:

  • When the placement of the cameras has been determined, there must be a 30-day public information campaign before deployment, followed by a 60-day warning period before actual fines are enforced.

  • Video recording and facial recognition is strictly prohibited, with photos taken only of the rear license plate of speeding vehicles.

  • Fines are reduced by as much as 80% for low-income drivers and people who receive benefits such as Medi-Cal or Calfresh. Cities may also offer community service in lieu of paying a fine.

  • The revenue generated must be spent on traffic calming measures on the selected corridors, or go to California’s Active Transportation Program (ATP) if not spent within three years.

Automated speed cameras are a step in the right direction toward eliminating police encounters for minor traffic violations, which disproportionately affect minority communities. Slower speeds also will help reduce harm to people of color, who suffer more from traffic violence.

Vision Zero, a strategy to eliminate all traffic fatalities and severe injuries, should be our goal for all city streets, and speed enforcement cameras can be a useful tool to reach this goal. Reducing the dangerous speed that California drivers frequently travel on city streets, and implementing traffic calming measures in these areas, will ultimately save lives and make our streets safer for everyone.

Elected officials, bike coalitions, pedestrian advocacy groups, and safe street advocates up and down the state are stepping up to support AB 645.

Please consider donating to TransForm to help us amplify the call for policies like these that have enormous potential to reduce traffic violence.


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