After a stalled attempt to pass an automated speed camera enforcement bill during last year’s legislative session, another effort is being made this year via Assembly Bill 645 (AB 645). While we support the bill’s intention to reduce crashes and improve equitable enforcement, we have concerns that it may work against these goals.
(Image credit: Tony Webster)
What is automated speed enforcement?
This is a camera-based enforcement system that uses radar to measure car speeds. If speeding is detected a certain amount over the limit, the camera will then take a photo of a license plate and issue a ticket by mail to the vehicle’s registered owner. Only a monetary fine can be issued, not license points, since the camera can not confirm who was driving the car at the time of the infraction.
Unlike automated red light camera enforcement systems which have shown mixed results in studies, speed camera enforcement systems have shown reductions in speeding and crashes at locations where they have been used elsewhere around the country. Automated red light enforcement is currently legal in California, but automated speed enforcement is not.
In addition to safety improvements, camera-based enforcement also results in more consistent implementation than stops made in-person by police officers, and no pretextual stops that have been shown to result in racially biased searches or other negative outcomes.
What does AB 645 do?
This bill would establish a 5-year pilot program for specific cities to implement and study automated camera enforcement systems. In the Bay Area these cities include San Jose, Oakland, and San Francisco. In Oakland there would likely be 18 camera systems installed at school zones and high injury corridors. These systems would result in monetary fines sent to the owners of registered vehicles recorded at speeds above the limit as follows:
- $50 for speeding from 11 to 15 miles per hour over the limit
- $100 for speeding from 16 to 25 miles per hour over the limit
- $200 for speeding from 26 to 99 miles per hour over the limit
- $500 for speeding 100 miles per hour or more over the limit
- Fine reductions between 50% to 80% will be available for people meeting certain low-income qualifications
If recorded car speeds and the number of tickets aren’t reduced within 1.5 years from when the camera enforcement is activated then the city will be required to implement physical traffic calming installations.
Additional details about the pilot program are available in a presentation to the Oakland bike/walk commission here, and the full text of AB 645 is available here.
What are Bike East Bay’s Concerns?
- AB 645 does not assign dedicated funding to the camera enforcement pilot programs, and assumes that the ticket revenue will be enough to cover all ongoing costs without tapping into a city’s existing transportation budget. Given the cost of camera installations, operations, maintenance, study, communications and other associated needs this is very unlikely unless the cameras are resulting in a very high number of tickets, which means that lots of people are still speeding and the cameras aren’t an effective deterrent. One of the downfalls of California’s automated red light camera enforcement systems was that there was no dedicated funding assigned, so cities placed them based on where the most revenue could be generated and not based on safety needs.
A successful automated speed camera system will ideally result in very few ongoing tickets, but this will also mean less funding to operate the program. In a city like Oakland that is already struggling to fill staffing vacancies and deliver critical bikeway and street safety infrastructure projects on time, we are concerned that a speed camera enforcement program will erode this project delivery capacity even further, unless dedicated funding is assigned. Ideally this dedicated funding will come from Police Department budgets, and not from much smaller and more constrained Department of Transportation or Public Works budgets.
- Camera-based enforcement does not work in cases where a driver obscures or removes their license plate, or when a vehicle is stolen. While New York City’s speed camera enforcement program has seen safety improvements, they also have a big problem with obscured license plates which contribute to other safety issues. The only way to address these increases in license plate issues is with more direct enforcement, which can be exploited by police departments to justify more pretextual stops resulting in the same, additional racial bias that these camera-based enforcement programs are intended to reduce.
We also know that Oakland’s high-injury corridors where the cameras would be concentrated are also predominately lower income communities of color. While these areas are in need of significant safety interventions and the residents are disproportionately affected by traffic violence, it is still a concern that these individuals would be significantly more likely to receive a camera ticket compared to residents in higher resource neighborhoods.
- We know that physical traffic calming is the most effective and equitable means for improving street safety, and this should remain the primary strategy ahead of any type of enforcement whether by police or by cameras. Currently AB 645 only mandates physical traffic calming if the speed camera systems aren’t effective. We feel that this should be vice versa, putting the traffic calming strategies first.
We have heard from some individuals that physical traffic calming takes too long to implement, or that it can’t be used on major corridors, but we know this isn’t accurate and we have examples throughout the East Bay as proof. 35th Ave in Oakland was a major high injury corridor where several fatal and severe injury crashes occurred in 2018-2019. A signal project planned by the city was going to take multiple years for completion, so we demanded that quick-fix traffic calming upgrade be implemented right away.
Despite 35th Ave being a collector street and bus corridor Oakland DOT followed through and installed a series of speed cushions along the corridor within just a matter of weeks. These immediately had a positive effect on car speeds and crashes, and there have been zero traffic fatalities on this part of 35th Ave since. Oakland DOT is now working on similar speed cushion installations on other major streets including MacArthur Blvd in East Oakland, and possibly on the International Blvd rapid bus corridor.
We want to see lots more quick and relatively inexpensive traffic calming installations like this around the East Bay both on major streets, and on neighborhood corridors like the ones coming up in Oakland’s Slow Streets program that we having been working to successfully bring back over the past three years. This work needs to remain at the very top of Oakland’s priority list, and needs to be elevated as the primary traffic safety strategy via AB 645 as well.