New California traffic safety bills would allow cities to lower speed limits, close streets for recreation, decriminalize jaywalking, more

September 22, 2021 | 12:27 pm


Our roadways will perhaps be a little safer after California lawmakers passed several bills recently that make safety on our roadways for drivers, pedestrians, passengers, and bicyclists a priority.

Five bills in particular now await a signature from Gov. Gavin Newsom to become laws. You can learn more about each one of the new California traffic safety bills below.

“We all want to know we’ll make it home safe when we hit the road, whether it’s on foot, bicycle, or in a vehicle,” said David Cohn, managing partner at Chain | Cohn | Stiles. “We hope these bills and potential laws make our streets a little safer for all.”

 

AB 43 – SPEED LIMIT REFORM

This bill gives California cities more control to set speeds based on safety. Currently, the state largely has authority over speed limits and sets them based on the movement speed of 85% of traffic on any given street. AB 43 would allow cities to reduce speeds by increments of 5 mph by letting local officials factor the safety of pedestrians and cyclists when conducting the speed traffic surveys California uses to determine streets’ speed limits. The bill requires that cities take into account the presence of vulnerable groups, including children, seniors, the unhoused and persons with disabilities when setting speed limits, and would permit cities to reduce speed limits on streets with a track record of traffic safety issues, including school zones, according to Natural Resources Defense Council.

 

AB 1238 – JAYWALKING REFORM

This bill would eliminate fines for crossing the street outside of a crosswalk, better known as jaywalking. It follows other states striking jaywalking as a primary offense in which police can no longer stop pedestrians specifically for jaywalking. The crime of jaywalking historically has often a pretext to stop and search people of color. Data from the California Racial and Identity Profiling Act shows Black people in California are over five times more likely to be stopped for a walking infraction than white people. AB 1238 still requires pedestrians to use due care for their safety and the safety of other road users, and those who cross the street when it’s not safe can still be cited. The bill merely decriminalizes safe crossing when there is no immediate hazard. It would be a pilot through 2028, and law enforcement will collect data on pedestrian-involved crashes until then.

 

AB 773 – CITY ‘SLOW STREETS’

The goal of this bill is to make it easier for cities to make the “slow streets” created during the COVID-19 pandemic permanent, and turn streets into safe outdoor spaces for transportation and recreation. Several cities during the COVID crisis have instituted local variations of “slow streets” programs, including barricades to slow traffic or prohibit cut-through traffic to create safe places for people to exercise, recreate, move or just be outside. AB 773 adds more to those specific circumstances under which a street closure is allowed, and could allow one to be permanent if cities determine “that closure or traffic restriction is necessary for the safety and protection of persons using the closed or restricted portion of the street.” In short, it would make it easier for cities to lower speed limits and even do permanent closure of local streets if the closure would make streets safer for pedestrians, bicyclists, and other non-motorized road users.

 

AB 122 – BIKES YIELD

This bill allows cyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs when it’s safe to do so. In fact, AB 122 would specifically require people riding bicycles to yield at stops signs if the intersection is clear. This practice, though extremely common, has been technically illegal. Other vehicles would have to yield the right of way to the bicyclist if they had already yielded. Traffic officers would still be allowed to cite people biking if they blow through stop signs in a way that endangers others.

“Research and common sense make clear that complete stops at all stop sign-controlled intersections make bike trips slower and require more energy from the rider,” stated author Assemblyman Boerner Horvath of Encinitas. “Studies on cyclists’ stopping behavior also find that these full stops do nothing to improve, and can even reduce, rider safety — attributed mainly to the increased time cyclists spend in the intersection after a full stop compared to the safe yielding alternative.”

AB 122 would only be a six year pilot program with an end date of Jan. 1, 2028 with a report on the program due that year and would also not affect driver liability if there is an accident.

 

AB 917 – AUTOMATED BUS LANE ENFORCEMENT

This bill would allow buses to install cameras that can take and use images of bus-lane and parking violations to enforce them. This is building on a program already in place in San Francisco County. AB 917 argues that drivers who park in bus lanes delay essential workers who take transit. And blocked up bus lanes cost transit agencies money by keeping bus drivers tied up in traffic, which drains local and state transit funding. Transit agencies will have to broadly announce a new bus lane enforcement program and only issue warnings for 60 days. Consistent automated enforcement will keep bus lanes free of parkers in a way that doesn’t create unnecessary interactions between law enforcement and the public, according to authors.

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If you or someone you know is injured in an accident at the fault of someone else, or injured on the job no matter whose fault it is, contact the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000, or fill out a free consultation form, text, or chat with us at chainlaw.com.

Crashes Caused By Speeding Have Spiked. Can New Automated Cameras Help Slow Drivers?

April 21, 2021 | 5:00 am


As the year of pandemic lockdowns and stay-at-home orders comes to an end, Americans are returning to deadlier streets.

Traffic deaths in the United States increased in 2020, even as people drove less because of the COVID-19 pandemic. National Safety Council estimates that 4.8 million people were injured in crashes last year and more than 42,000 people died in vehicle crashes, the latter of which is an 8% increase over 2019 and the first jump in four years. In addition, the fatality rate per 100 million miles driven spiked 24%, the largest annual percentage increase since the council began collecting data in 1923.

The reason: More people were speeding as roadways emptied, and police stopped enforcing as many traffic stops to minimize the spread of the coronavirus. Those who ventured out found open lanes that invited reckless driving, leading to a sharp increase in traffic-crash deaths across the country, experts say.

Of the reckless behaviors, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show speed to be the top factor, and the high number of speeding drivers is continuing even as traffic is starting to return to pre-pandemic levels. In California, citations issued by the state highway patrol for speeding over 100 mph roughly doubled to 31,600 during the pandemic’s first year.

As an aside, seatbelt use has gone down, and more people have died in crashes with alcohol or other drugs in their system, according to a National Safety Council analysis of trauma centers.

“We need to address traffic violence on our streets,” said David Cohn, managing partner of Chain | Cohn | Stiles. “We are seeing risk-taking driving leading to dramatic numbers of injuries and deaths that are 100 percent preventable. It’s terrifying what we’re seeing on our roads.”

Lawmakers have introduced dozens of bills to lower speed limits, set up speed camera programs and promote pedestrian safety.

 

SPEED LIMITS

Different states are addressing the speeding issue in various ways:
  • Some states want to boost the authority of localities to regulate traffic in their communities, such as giving cities and counties more control over speed limits, as legislators have proposed in Michigan, Nebraska and other states.
  • Some want to let communities use speed cameras, which is under consideration in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Florida and elsewhere.
  • Connecticut is considering a pedestrian safety bill that incorporates multiple concepts, including giving localities greater authority to lower speeds, and letting some municipalities test speed cameras around schools, hospitals and work zones.

California uses something called the “85th percentile” method, a decades-old federal standard. Here’s how it works:

Every 10 years, state engineers survey a stretch of road to see how fast people are driving. Then they base the speed limit on the 85th percentile of that speed, or how fast 85% of drivers are going. a federal report found the 85th percentile rule similarly inadequate to set speeds.

In addition to lowering speed limits, lawmakers also want to better enforce them. In California, two bills would reverse the state’s ban on automated speed enforcement by allowing cities to start speed camera pilot programs in places such as work zones, on particularly dangerous streets and around schools.

 

SPEED CAMERAS

California cities could soon set up automated cameras to catch and ticket speeders on their most dangerous streets. Also known as automated speed enforcement, the cameras measure the speeds of passing cars and snap photos of those going a certain mph over the limit, then mail a ticket to the owner. The cameras can be particularly effective on high-speed streets where serious crashes are common, some experts say. Drivers would be less likely to blast through an area they know has cameras, and while speeders wouldn’t be stopped in the moment, getting a ticket in the mail would make them slowdown in the future.

Assembly member David Chiu of San Francisco, who authored Assembly Bill 550 on automated cameras, says the measure includes safeguards to make the speed camera program fair. It would cap fees at $125, with a sliding scale for low-income drivers, and make violations civil offenses, not criminal.

Several California cities have for years used cameras to catch people who run red lights. But state law as it is currently written doesn’t authorize automated cameras to enforce speed limits. The legislation would authorize local transportation departments and Caltrans to use the cameras in pilot programs, and set up a state work group to create policies for the technology.

While conventional speeding tickets in California often cost hundreds of dollars and add “points” that could lead to the suspension of a driver’s license, fines generated by the cameras under the new bill would not generate points and would be capped at a total cost, fees included, of no more than $125.

Chiu’s bill also limits who can access photos, bans the use of facial-recognition technology in the cameras and requires programs to provide a diversion option for less-wealthy drivers who can’t afford to pay their fines.

“This has been about changing driver behavior,” Chiu told the San Jose Mercury News. “This is about saving lives and improving safety.”

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If you or someone you know is injured in an accident at the fault of someone else, or injured on the job no matter whose fault it is, contact the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000, or fill out a free consultation form at chainlaw.com.