Moving Forward on Automatic Speed Enforcement Cameras

Legislative Push is on for ASE with the Safe Streets Act of 2017

Image: City of Seattle
Image: City of Seattle

Last week, Assemblymember David Chiu, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, representatives from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), traffic injury victims, surviving family members, and others met at Zuckerberg San Francisco Hospital trauma center to announce the introduction of Assembly Bill 342, also known as the Safe Streets Act of 2017. If passed, it will allow for an “Automated Speed Enforcement (ASE) Pilot Program to Reduce Speeding and Save Lives.” More from Chiu’s official announcement:

ASE is a proven safety technique that uses cameras with vehicle speed sensors to snap photos of license plates of motor vehicles traveling above a defined threshold. It is currently being used in 142 communities across the country to deter speeding and improve safety for all road users, with results including:

  • A reduction in drivers traveling more than 10 mph over the speed limit; and
  • A reduction in citations issued as drivers change their dangerous driving behaviors; and
  • Most significantly, a reduction in crashes that result in serious injury or death.

“Speed kills. Sadly, we know too well that this is true in San Francisco and throughout California,” said Chiu in the prepared release. “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.”

“Excessive speeding is often the difference between a minor collision and a fatality…Too often drivers treat speed limits as suggestions, not as actual limits that are critical to keeping our streets safe for drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians,” said California State Senator Scott Wiener, also in the release. “ASE will help our goals of making sure that vehicles travel at safe speeds so that we can have safe, livable streets in our cities and our neighborhoods.​”

As Streetsblog reported previously, the technology has proven itself overseas and in American cities such as Portland, OR. In Washington, D.C., traffic deaths fell by more than 50 percent when the city started rolling out ASE.

Nobody would deny that there aren’t enough cops on speed patrol; as a result, motorists know they can almost always get away with speeding. But ASE cameras can be placed all over. In cities where motorists know speeding results in an expensive citation almost every time, they stop doing it. So ASE should be a no-brainer. But in the past, it’s been politically impossible to get this kind of legislation in motion. Opponents cite privacy concerns. Others worry that the ticket ends up going to the registered owner of the car, rather than the actual driver.

That’s an argument that never held much credibility. If someone loans their car to a friend, and that person gets a parking ticket, the owner and borrower of the car have to work it out. And if someone was speeding so far over the limit that revocation of a driver’s license–or criminal charges–are in order, then it gives the police an excellent starting point for an investigation. Speaking of which, it gives the police leads in hit-and-runs too. If a camera snaps a photo of someone going 90 mph past an ASE, and a minute later there’s a nearby hit-and-run, that car in the photograph is probably one they want to find and check for damage.

Opponents of ASE, Streetsblog suspects, simply don’t like the idea that they won’t be able to speed anymore–as Wiener put it, some people treat the speed limit as a suggestion, and perhaps they prefer it that way.

It’s unacceptable that some 30 people per year are killed and 500 more are hospitalized in traffic crashes in San Francisco. Speed isn’t the only factor, of course, but Vision Zero simply can’t be achieved until it’s brought under control.

Either way, it’s going to be a while before AB 342 can make a difference. Even if “…the bill passed and was signed and took effect on January 1, 2018,” explained Judson True, Chui’s chief of staff, in an email to Streetsblog, “we would expect the SFMTA to implement the program by 2019.” And that’s only a pilot. But given the pushback ASE has received in the past, Streetsblog applauds any effort to get some cameras in place.

“Every time I step into a crosswalk with my children or by myself, I worry that we will get hit by a vehicle. Walking or biking should not be a daily close call with death…this is why ASE is so important to me,” said Julie Mitchell, whose son Dylan was killed by a truck driver in San Francisco, in the statement announcing the legislation. “Everyone deserves to feel safe on our streets.”

  • PhotoRadarscam

    Julie Mitchell, when you step into a crosswalk you SHOULD be worried. Pedestrians should never be so comfortable and complacent that they are not concerned about their safety and taking appropriate measures (i.e., looking both ways before crossing).

  • bobfuss

    Part of the reason speed cameras work overseas is that many nations don’t have the equivalent of our fifth amendment and the right to silence. So in the UK, for example, unless the owner identifies who was driving, the owner has to pay the ticket himself.

    That would not be possible in the US because the owner cannot be compelled to testify as to who was driving, if he denies driving it himself. And of course they all will.

    So the camera has to get an accurate face picture as well as the license plate, and that is difficult to do, especially if the driver prepares well by, say, wearing sunglasses, a baseball cap pulled down, has a tinted windshield and/or has the sun visor down.

    Another problem with cameras is that the driver doesn’t know he has collected a ticket meaning that, on a long journey, he could in theory pick up dozens of tickets. Whereas when stopped by a cop and physically given a ticket, chances are he will then go slower.

    Some jurisdictions are actually rolling back their use of speed cameras due to adverse public feedback. Or insist that the locations are indicated with signs, and even shown on maps. This renders them easily avoidable – at best it just slows down a vehicle for 100 yards.

  • PhotoRadarscam

    Also, many cities have removed their cameras after failing to see improvements in safety.

  • crazyvag

    I think a better bill would be to prevent debacle that prevent loading islands from being created when counter argument is parking loss. If you’re discussing safety in a high injury corridor, don’t even bother getting up to the mic or writing an email unless your concern is about parking.

    We shouldn’t even have such childish arguments of parking vs safety, but nearly every project is tied up over parking.

  • thielges

    Ah, so the Recreational Reckless Driver Association is out dishing up the same old tired arguments against speed cameras. Instead of bending over backwards to rationalize reasons against speed cameras, why not look at the empirical data. Adding speed cameras correlates with lowered traffic fatalities. It shouldn’t matter what change was done, it is the results that matter. If swapping out the red octagonal STOP signs with signs shaped like Hello Kitty correlated with better traffic safety, then we should do more of it instead of trying to explain it away. Unless you’re dead set against Kawaii and care nothing about the safety of your community.

  • Pietro Gambadilegno

    You don’t understand the economics involved, even though it should be very obvious that it is cheaper to have cameras than to pay for more police officers.

  • Pietro Gambadilegno

    How many traffic tickets go to court?

  • gb52

    So other than community concerns about tracking (rather ridiculous considering how many cameras are out there already), why couldn’t SFMTA set up cameras right now and issue warnings or even just “fake” cameras as deterrents? Law enforcement is much a cat and mouse game, but we build in so many rules for the police that there is no way for them to actually enforce all the laws successfully. We need to just do it. It’s simple, be wary of your speed at all times and do not exceed the speed limit. If you TRY, it’s not that hard to stay below the 10 mph over, threshold. In many cases that’s 33% faster than you should be traveling anyway, and if you don’t realize that, than maybe you shouldn’t be driving.

    BUT, when it comes to fines, sure maybe we start with a simple $100 fine, but it should be a sliding scale with traffic school required. (more offenses, more money). Again this isn’t a mechanism for revenue generation but just getting people to follow the rules! Perhaps we can just funnel this money into driver education and awareness. Remember it’s super easy to not have to worry about any of this. Just follow the rules.

  • mortacai

    Are you saying that speed cameras are set to trigger only when a vehicle is exceeding the speed limit by more than 10 mph?

    I believe that is a rule of thumb that cops use, partly because it’s petty to issue tickets for going 36 in a 35 zone. And partly because speedometers in vehicles typically have a 10 mph or so margin of error anyway.

    That said, it implies that a 35 mph limit is really 45, and a 25 mph limit is really 35. And prevailing traffic speeds in SF indicate that is the case anyway, 25 and 35 being the most common city speed limits.

  • thielges

    Speedometers do not typically have a 10MPH margin of error.

  • mortacai

    Perhaps not, but at least some do, and without checking the accuracy of each vehicle whenever a ticket is issued, then there has to be some margin that is allowed. If not 10 mph, then what? Perhaps express it as a percentage – is that your idea?

    Otherwise tickets would get thrown out on technicalities.

  • Corvus Corax

    As usual, RichLL – who is here posting as bobfuss, and other posts as AlTate, Ringo, Todd, and who knows how many other names – has no facts to back up his fanciful ideas. A recent attempt to thwart a camera speeding ticket received this response: The respondent has been charged with violating Section 1180-b of the
    Vehicle and Traffic Law, by failing to comply with the maximum speed
    limits in a school speed zone. Respondent claims that there is no
    evidence of their involvement in this “crime” and that they are denied
    their constitutional right to face their accuser and that their guilt
    cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt and that they are not
    required to implicate another person and that they have the right to
    remain silent. These are not valid legal defenses. This is not a
    criminal proceeding but a civil proceeding and as such the 6th Amendment
    right to face their accuser and their 5th Amendment right to
    (r)emain silent (which in any event is only applicable to
    self-incriminating statements not statements that may incriminate
    others) are not applicable. In addition, the burden of proof is not
    “guilt beyond a reasonable doubt” but substantial proof of their guilt.

  • bobfuss

    Except that people routinely get off red light camera tickets when the camera image does not show a clear face picture. Why would speed camera tickets be any different?

    The European cameras do not require a face pic, for the reasons cited, so are much cheaper and more effective

  • dat

    Have you ever posted as RichLL or Ringo?

  • bobfuss

    I do not engage in gossip about other people. But I do understand those who seek to avoid being stalked by judiciously altering their nom de plume in a way that Disqus fully supports.

  • farazs

    > at least some do
    Yes and those vehicles are what we call NOT road-worthy.

    Speed measuring devices typically have a 1 or 2 mph margin of error. Beyond that, one has no defence. The accuracy of your speedometer is *your* problem, not everyone elses!

  • mortacai

    The cops do not operate on that principle. They typically only ticket when you are 10 mph over the limit because they know from experience that a ticket for a marginal overage is likely to be bounced by the courts.

    I got a ticket doing 85 in a 70 zone on a freeway and the cop told me that if I had been doing 84, he’d have let me off.

  • Corvus Corax

    Stalked!?!?! That’s rich, Rich. Stalking implies an innocence you cannot possibly claim as the agent provocateur you are so well-known to be.

  • Corvus Corax

    Citation, please.

  • bobfuss

    Corvus, you stalk anyone whose opinion you personally disagree with. Disqus provides functionality to easily change one’s account name precisely to deflect those like you who try and intimidate those whom you cannot refute through rational argument.

    If any of my behavior was unethical or otherwise contrary to the rules, then I surely would have been banned. But I have not been and, frankly, you are in far more in danger of being banned for stalking than I am for merely telling the truth.

    All that said, can you refute my earlier point re cameras? I suspect not, given your deflection.

  • Miles Bader

    The only real answer is obvious: ban cars.

  • Frank Kotter

    jcwconsult.: My brother has been driving like a complete maniac in multiple metro areas for two decades now. Sure he gets tickets. However, he only has ever gotten them outside of cities. The metro police find writing speeding tickets below them and don’t do it. If only there was a simple solution which has proven to work all over the world.

  • dat

    Answer the question please. Have you ever posted as RichLL or Ringo?

  • Corvus Corax

    I thought he did answer and that the answer was yes. In fact, I was giving him some credit for, if not real honesty, at least for non-denial Some time ago I confronted him when he posted under yet another name, he claimed to have no idea what I was talking about and denied who he was. But his writing style is easy to recognize. (He did adopt a different style when he first started posting as Todd, but was unable to maintain the pretense and fell back to his usual.)

    Here is a good example:

    He posted as RichLL; Bikes are vehicles and should
    share with other vehicles, not people.

    Then he posted as Ringo: Bikes and pedestrians do not
    mix. Bikes are traffic, not people, and should be on the highway.

  • Corvus Corax

    jcwconsult? Now there’s a name I hoped never to hear again!

  • As we all know, such officer discretion is often times racially based. This is why we need automatic speed cameras. Traffic enforcement should be fair, thorough, and automatic.

  • Stuart

    The ASE proposal in question doesn’t give red-light-cam-style tickets. “If a vehicle is detected travelling 10 miles over the posted speed limit, its registered owner would receive a citation classified as a $100 administrative penalty (not a moving violation).”

    The picture is only of the license plate, not the driver, and no driver identification is involved.

    In typical RichLL fashion, you are arguing against a straw man.

  • Stuart

    It says that right it the linked announcement. “ASE would be activated on vehicles travelling 10 miles over the posted speed limit.”

  • bobfuss

    So wait, the idea is that the vehicle is fined and not the driver? Your assumption is that an owner can control the speed of a vehicle when he is not driving.

    I can’t see that being upheld in court. This won’t work as is.

  • bobfuss

    Corvus, have you had many restraining orders taken out against you? Because you are scarily obsessed. What the hell is wrong with you?

  • bobfuss
  • Stuart

    > Your assumption is […]

    I’m not assuming anything. I’m telling you how the proposed legislation works.

    > I can’t see that being upheld in court. This won’t work as is.

    And yet parking tickets, which work the same way, continue to be a thing that exists.

    If it passes, feel free to challenge it in court and let us know how that works out for you. In the mean time, you’ll excuse us if we don’t all find the airchair lawyering of someone who hasn’t even looked at the legislation convincing.

  • bobfuss

    Bear in mind that the “proposed legislation” is merely for a pilot that would happen no sooner than 2019. There will be intense political opposition, not just from massive lobby groups like CSAA and AARP, but also advocates for civil liberties and privacy issues.

    And there is a genuine legal and constitutional question here as to whether entire categories of offense can be self-servingly re-classifed for the convenience of a jurisdiction. The Bill of Rights specifically addresses such abuses of government power, and you can reasonably expect numerous lawsuits attacking such an idea.

    Because, if you think about it, cities and counties could re-classify all moving violations as adminstrative infractions, and abusively send out millions of tickets for anything and everything. The parking ticket analogy doesn’t hold up because that isn’t a moving violation. Parking tickets can be issued by DPT – moving violations cannot – they require police evidence.

    Again, you have not addressed the issue where the owner was not driving and the driver cannot be identified.

    I also would expect massive civil obedience if this ever happened, including fighting every ticket, and possible vigilante actions such as have been seen in Europe, where cameras have been attacked by paint guns or otherwise sabotaged.

  • Corvus Corax

    No? No citations? Why am I not surprised? It is clear from your handle that you are a one-trick pony, but are not even any good at that one trick.

    I hope you are not counting on RichLL’s (here posting under the pseudonym bobfuss) link to back up your claim. RichLL has never been one to let facts hinder his opinion: here is a quote directly from the article he linked to: “Spokesman Paul Watters said: ‘We expect that hundreds of cameras may have to be removed as a result and we certainly welcome it, ,”

    The italics are mine. We can clearly see the pro-speeding bias of this article, which has nothing to do with lack of safety improvements: there is nothing vis-à-vis your ridiculous claim. As I said, RichLL never lets facts get in his way.

  • bobfuss

    The proposed bill is only for a pilot that would not happen until 2019. It’s not at all clear that the Bill will pass, or that there won’t be lawsuits to throw it out since it is a fairly blatant attempt to reclassify moving violations as a mere civil infraction.

    I would also expect considerable lobbying against such an erosion of civil rights, and a public backlash if it ever looked like happening.

    You should hope this fails, as it indicates a slippery slope that will end up eroding the rights of everyone and, as normally happens with sch things, it is the poor and the vulnerable who will suffer the most.

  • bobfuss

    So you cannot refute the citation I offered then?

  • laylay

    That’s why there are so many cars with tickets that previous owners did not have to pay off they roll over to the next owner

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