Assemblymember David Chiu takes second shot at speed camera bill

Pilot program includes stronger protections for privacy and equity, supporters say

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

That’s the tack Assemblymember David Chiu is taking in his effort to end traffic deaths and injuries.

Joined by a chorus of city council members, transportation agency leaders, advocates and the mayors of San Francisco, San Jose and Oakland, Chiu introduced legislation on Tuesday that would pilot the use of automated cameras to capture the license plates of speeding vehicles in high-risk communities to curb reckless driving behavior and save lives.

“At a certain point, we have to say enough is enough, because these deaths are completely, utterly preventable,” Chiu said.

If passed, the bill would require the California Department of Transportation to work with stakeholders to establish guidelines for the speed safety program, such as how many miles per hour above the posted speed limit a vehicle would have to travel to trigger the speed cameras’ radar, to be applied on dangerous local streets and work zones.

Assembly Bill 550 is Chiu’s second attempt at codifying a pilot automated speed enforcement program to slow down cars and reduce the number of severe injuries and fatalities caused by traffic violence.

He first tried in 2017, but the bill was ultimately shot down due to opposition from the civil liberties and equity advocates and law enforcement agencies, among others.

But Chiu said this time is different: thousands of Californians have continued to be killed by traffic collisions; the science has ballooned in support of speed cameras to “stop these senseless deaths”; and a national conversation has emerged around race and law enforcement, including the disproportionate burden people of color bear in interactions such as traffic stops.

Tuesday’s legislation includes strict privacy restrictions, including the prohibition of facial recognition technology, equity parameters and a mandate that the program be overseen by local transportation agencies rather than police departments.

Violators would be hit with a civil citation capped at a $125 fine, with alternative diversion programs available to replace full payment. It would also not add a point to a driver’s license.

San Francisco Supervisor Aaron Peskin called the bill’s nuances “the right formula” to balance the needs of all stakeholders, and said he planned to introduce a resolution of support to the entire Board of Supervisors as well as the County Transportation Authority.

“Let’s get this done,” he said.

Around 30 people are killed and 500 more seriously injured every year on San Francisco streets, a staggering figure that has persisted even as The City approaches its 2024 Vision Zero deadline.

Speed is widely understood to be the most determinant factor in whether a person will live or die as a result of a vehicle collision.

As officials commonly cite, a person hit by a car traveling 20 miles per hour has a 90 percent chance of survival while someone struck by a vehicle moving 40 miles per hour stands only 20 percent.

“One thing we know is speed kills,” Chiu said.

Yet the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency and other local transportation agencies still lack the authority to make the kind of transformative changes that could really slow vehicles, chief among them the power to use automated speed enforcement to deter dangerous driver speeds.

“We need every tool available to us to make this happen, and right now we’re missing one,” Mayor London Breed said. “The fact that we don’t have automated speed enforcement is a problem, and it is one that is stopping us from saving lives.”

Officials emphasized that the cameras themselves are mobile, and they will be placed in community corridors only after rigorous data analysis about the frequency of high speeds and a robust neighborhood engagement process in cities that have opted into the speed safety program.

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