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Controversial Speeding Ticket Cameras Could Come to 3 Bay Area Cities Under Proposed California Bill

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A traffic light, sign and surveillance camera.
A security camera is attached to a pole next to a traffic signal on Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills on April 18, 2022. (Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Three Bay Area cities are poised to install cameras that automatically cite tickets for driving over the speed limit, according to a state bill that is swiftly working its way through the California Legislature.

The bill, AB 645, comes as cities are increasingly looking at solutions to traffic accidents and ways to make streets safer for drivers and pedestrians. It would allow San Francisco, Oakland and San José to pilot a speed camera system, along with Los Angeles, Glendale and Long Beach.

But some privacy advocates worry the surveillance approach, which has been used in places like Chicago, will do little to change speeding issues while penalizing drivers in areas with less traffic infrastructure.

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“The problem with automated traffic enforcement is that it forces people to pay for the traffic-calming measures that cities should be paying for proactively,” said Tracy Rosenberg, advocacy director of Oakland Privacy, a citizens’ coalition that advocates for the regulation of surveillance technology.

“When you look at cities, you find a real uneven allocation in terms of where traffic management infrastructure has been put into place,” she said. “Often in affluent neighborhoods, there is quite a bit of it, and you get into lower-income neighborhoods and there’s nothing. It’s all a speed trap. So that’s where all the tickets are going to be issued.”

Supporters of the bill, like the pedestrian advocacy group Walk San Francisco, say the speed safety cameras could help prevent more traffic deaths and dangerous road activity.

The city of Oakland on its website said that the bill could also help with “removing interactions between police and the community at traffic stops that have the potential to escalate.”

An average of 30 people a year have died in traffic deaths since 2006 in San Francisco, according to data from Vision Zero SF, which advocates for and measures traffic safety in the city. In 2022, 39 people died while traveling on the streets of San Francisco. Mayor London Breed co-sponsored the legislation, which was authored by Assemblymember Laura Friedman (D-Glendale).

Across the Bay Area’s nine counties, more than 400 fatalities and 1,500 serious injuries occur on average each year, according to data from the Bay Area Vision Zero Working Group, a part of the region’s Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

Under AB 645, fines start at $50 for drivers speeding at least 11 miles per hour over the speed limit on specified city roads, and the fines can increase to up to $500 for traveling 100 miles per hour or more. Fines can be reduced if someone is unable to pay, and cities can offer community service alternatives.

The pilot program would run until Jan. 1, 2032, and data and outcomes would be used to determine whether it should move forward. Highways would not be included in the pilot programs.

For the first 30 days of the program’s rollout, cities would be required to issue warnings rather than fines. Cities would also be required to track outcomes and install additional so-called traffic-calming measures if speeding does not decrease by at least 20% in the first 18 months of the pilot.

Those additional changes could include adding bike lanes, media islands, roundabouts or curb extensions, and funding from the citations must be used for those types of developments.

Rosenberg said it should be the other way around.

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“We think that it’s kind of backwards, that cities should invest in traffic-calming infrastructure before they start punishing people essentially for the infrastructure not being in place,” she said.

There is mixed research on how effective speed cameras are at reducing casualties. In Chicago, crash data shows that the number of injuries and deaths decreased in areas where the cameras were installed. One study from the University of Illinois at Chicago found that automated speed enforcement reduced fatal crashes by 15% from 2015 to 2017.

But citations were not spread evenly. The UIC report also found that camera tickets were more likely to be issued in majority Black and Latino communities and lower-income neighborhoods.

The pilot programs would include a camera to take photos of license plates, as well as other technology including radar or laser systems to detect speeding. That also has Rosenberg concerned.

“There’s a lot of location data out there in the hands of the government about where we are, how we travel and how our cars move through space. And I read every week about a government system getting hacked nowadays,” she said, nodding to a recent data breach at the city of Oakland. “We have concerns about the privacy and security of this data.”

KQED’s Billy Cruz contributed reporting to this story.

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