High-tech trap aims to slow San Mateo speeders

The next time a speed meter in San Mateo informs you to “slow down,” you just might want to heed the advice.

San Mateo police are aggressively looking to acquire high-tech and portable speed meters that both display the motorists’ speed as they drive by and snap a photo of drivers going too fast. Information would be relayed to the police department and drivers would be mailed a ticket after a police officer reviews the infraction. The “photo radar” equipment works a lot like red-light cameras.

The traffic enforcement method is used in other states, including Arizona, but is currently outlawed in California. A bill to allow a pilot program in Beverly Hills recently died in the Legislature but San Mateo police plan on asking local lawmakers to be part of such a program, or to start their own.

“Were very interested in being a beta test site for this; we’ve told the legislation that,” said San Mateo Deputy Police Chief Mike Callagy. “The largest complaint we get from citizens is the fact that they have speeding and reckless driving in their neighborhoods.”

Photos would be taken once a driver hits a certain speed above the limit, a speed threshold that would depend on the area and be kept confidential, Callagy said.

The system would hopefully reduce accidents and pay for itself based on the fines, and not necessarily be a source of revenue, Callagy said.

Motorists may not be as thrilled with the plan.

“If the speed limits are out of whack you can just crank tickets by the thousands and make a lot of money,” National Motorists Association President Jim Baxter said.

Another issue is figuring out due processfor challenging the tickets, Baxter said.

The Beverly Hills bill died in the state Senate transportation subcommittee in large part because lawmakers were weary of privacy issues, said Jonathan Tran from the office of state Sen. Sheila Kuehl, D-Santa Monica, who authored that bill.

Callagy cited success in Arizona. Police there use photo radar on highways and arterial roads, said Arizona Department of Public Safety Lt. James Warriner.

“We’ve seen a huge difference … in areas where you have high collision rates,” Warriner said.

mrosenberg@sfexaminer.com

Caught on photo radar

A proposal to install speed radars could improve safety, but may also lead to excessive ticketing.

Possible benefits

Improve safety

Doesn’t require stationed officers

Raises money for city

Can be moved around

Possible drawbacks

Doesn’t consider non-speeding violations

Raises privacy issues

Could lead to excessive ticketing

Sources: San Mateo police, National Motorists Association, San Francisco Consumer Action

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