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Assemblyman David Chiu (D-San Francisco) will try his luck again at legislating the use of automated speed enforcement cameras in an attempt to reduce traffic-related fatalities and injuries.

Joined by pedestrian advocates and mayors from San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose, Chiu Tuesday  announced Assembly Bill 550 that would pilot the use of automated cameras to capture the license plates of speeding vehicles.

Stressing that traffic fatalities should never be considered an acceptable cost of driving, he said:

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

The bill would direct the California State Transportation Agency to convene a stakeholder group tasked with establishing speed safety program guidelines, including minimum speeds at which a vehicle would trigger camera activation.

Individual city transportation agencies would lead the pilot program, as opposed to local police departments, and citations would be civil and not criminal. No points would be added to the driver’s record and fines would be capped at $125 with alternative diversion programs offered in lieu of the citation. Chiu said:

“We are approaching this in an equitable way. In a way that respects privacy, in a way that puts low income communities and communities of color first.”

Chiu tried, unsuccessfully, to pass a similar bill in 2017. According to estimates taken from the state’s Office of Traffic Safety, more than 10,000 traffic-related fatalities occurred in the three years following that failed bill. Chiu hopes the current version will draw more support now that data reflects the effectiveness of the camera technology and due to the national conversation surrounding law enforcement.

San Francisco Supervisor Aaron Peskin and chair of the county’s transportation authority, said he plans to introduce a resolution at both boards in favor of AB 550.

Peskin said:

“I want to commend Assemblymember Chui, who I think has come up with the right formula in Assembly Bill 550 that balances the needs of the civil civil liberties community with very carefully crafted privacy protections.”

Chiu’s new bill would ban use of camera facial recognition software, which was a point of contention among privacy advocates who opposed to the 2017 bill.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed said The City suffers about 30 traffic-related fatalities every year and more than 500 people are seriously injured on city streets. She noted that The City has taken some steps to mitigate traffic safety risks by installing more protected bike lanes and bolstering pedestrian safety measures.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, even as vehicle volumes plummeted, The City recorded 30 deaths caused by traffic crashes in 2020.

The mayor said needs every tool available must be used to ensure streets are safe, especially streets in low-income communities, adding:

“The fact that we don’t have automatic speed enforcement is a problem, and it is one that is stopping us from saving lives. We know this and it has been proven in cities across the country.”

Officials and advocates have said speed plays an integral role in whether pedestrians survive traffic collisions. Simply, lower vehicle speeds increase survival rates.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaff said this is an area where the state has failed to lead, falling behind other states that have already implemented the camera technology.

Schaff said:

“We need to catch up. Lives depend on it.”

Jerold Chinn
Jerold Chinn is the San Francisco Bureau Chief of SFBay. A San Francisco native, he has spent a decade covering transportation in San Francisco. Send tips to jerold@sfbay.ca or at Twitter @Jerold_Chinn.

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