California Allows Cities to Catch Speeding Drivers With Automated Cameras

Slow down, California drivers.

Speed cameras can be installed next year in six cities, including San Francisco and Los Angeles, after Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation on Friday approving a trial run of enforcement systems that can automatically flag errant drivers for citations.

The new state law comes as pedestrian deaths have spiked in California and across the country because of more reckless driving, bigger vehicles and a lack of traffic enforcement.

Legislators and advocates for pedestrian safety had tried but failed three times in six years to push a speed camera law through the State Legislature. Opponents had raised concerns that the cameras would invade driver privacy and that people of color in low-income neighborhoods would receive a disproportionate share of citations.

After lawmakers amended the proposal this year to address such concerns, including allowing low-income people to perform community service instead of paying the fines, the bill made it out of the Legislature for the first time in September.

California is a latecomer to the use of speed cameras, which are deployed in 205 communities around the country, including cities like New York City, Chicago and Boston. Studies have found that drivers slow down significantly at camera locations; in New York, speeding as such locations has dropped by 73 percent.

Like red-light cameras, which are already in use in California, speed cameras give cities the ability to automatically record license plates and issue tickets when motorists violate the law.

San Francisco officials will be allowed to install 33 automated speed cameras in the city, and drivers caught going at least 11 miles per hour above the posted limit will be fined $50. The fines will increase for motorists going even higher speeds.

The cities of Long Beach, Glendale, Oakland and San Jose will also be allowed to install cameras.

Residents of many cities, including San Francisco, have complained that drivers have become increasingly reckless since the coronavirus pandemic. Despite such concerns, police departments are struggling to boost their enforcement of roadways.

In September 2015, the San Francisco Police Department issued 948 speeding tickets, or more than 30 per day. This September, the department issued just 91 such tickets, or three per day.

San Francisco police have said that they are understaffed, and that filling out all the paperwork related to one ticket has grown more burdensome. But many pedestrian groups fear that drivers have little incentive to slow down if they face such minimal risk of getting caught.

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