Speed-Camera Tickets Could Be Legalized in California

A new state legislative proposal would legalize cameras that issue speeding tickets, as part of a pilot program. Jay Beeber, an Angeleno who's a longtime warrior against the perceived unfairness of the city's parking tickets, has mounted a campaign against the speed-camera bill by Assemblyman David Chiu. Although the five-year pilot program would apply only to Chiu's hometown of San Francisco and to San Jose, there's fear that the bill, AB 342, eventually would open the floodgates to speed cameras statewide.

Beeber says he worries that the bill could even be amended to include Los Angeles in the pilot program. For now, however, lead-footed Angelenos are safe: The bill appears to have stalled in the Assembly Privacy and Consumer Protection Committee (but according to Chiu's office, it will be back with possible amendments on April 18).

As proposed, speed cameras would work like red-light cameras, by sending tickets to the registered owners of cars that are allegedly exceeding the posted speed limit. But it would establish administrative hearings — similar to the ones for parking tickets — instead of Superior Court hearings. Although San Jose tried out radar-based enforcement in the '00s, it didn't have the Legislature's blessing, and the program ended.

The devices would "only be deployed on streets with documented collisions due to speeding resulting in injuries and deaths," according to Chiu's office.

Cameras have been used to enforce speed limits in the United Kingdom for more than 20 years, and they're despised by many drivers there (they've even been famously mocked on the car show Top Gear). The biggest question is whether they actually make the roads safer. Critics like Beeber say there's no such proof.

He also says the bill doesn't provide due process. "For the first time in the state of California, a violation of the law, which would traditionally be handled as a criminal (or quasi-criminal) matter, would be treated as a civil violation," according to Beeber's written analysis of the legislation.

The bill would not require the cameras to capture a photo of the driver — thus leaving the registered owner of the car on the hook for the ticket even if he or she wasn't behind the wheel, according to the analysis. And it "would require the Department of Motor Vehicles to refuse to renew the registration of a vehicle if, among other things, the owner has not paid the civil penalty and delinquent fees, except as specified," according to its language.

"This would be more like a parking ticket," Beeber says. "If you don't pay the ticket, you won't be able to register your vehicle."

Suspects would not able to cross-examine the camera as they would a police officer. They wouldn't even be able to challenge the speed calibration of the machine, according to Beeber. "The way this bill is written, it pretty much takes away all the rights you have if a police officer pulls you over," he says.

He argues it's all about getting more money out of taxpayers without actually having to do the difficult and politically perilous job of raising taxes. Jay S. Carsman, a former Los Angeles Department of Transportation parking systems coordinator, who is credited with moving parking tickets from the courts to administrative hearings, has joined Beeber in the fight against the bill.

"Unfortunately, the unrelenting demands for substantial revenue growth, the blanket authority granted to each local agency to adjust their schedule of fines and late payment penalties, and the time limits and monetary demands placed upon motorists wishing to contest their [parking] citation(s) allied to a corrupted system of inflated fines and penalties and the routine denial of any meaningful justice to literally millions of California motorists," he writes in a letter opposing the bill. " ... I urge you to not compound the mistakes we made with parking citations by adding any motor vehicle moving violations to a similar legal status."

The legislation's author, Chiu, insists that speed cameras would make California's roads safer.

"Speed kills," Chiu said in a statement. "Sadly, we know too well that this is true in San Francisco and throughout California. We know how to fix this crisis on our streets. It is time we take this important step to put an end to these senseless traffic fatalities."


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