State bill could give San Jose speed enforcement cameras
The intersection of Monterey Road and Curtner Avenue. Photo by Tran Nguyen.

    San Jose is one step closer to getting speed enforcement cameras to combat a leading cause of traffic fatalities.

    The California Assembly’s transportation committee voted unanimously Monday to advance Assembly Bill 2336, which would authorize the use of automated speed enforcement cameras in San Jose, Los Angeles, Oakland, Glendale and San Francisco. The bill heads to the appropriations committee next.

    Automated speed enforcement cameras are used along roads to measure the speed of passing cars and take pictures of license plates. Tickets are then mailed to offenders. More than 150 communities in the U.S. have speed enforcement cameras, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

    San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, who spoke to the committee in favor of the bill, noted some research indicates these cameras have led to significant reductions in traffic fatalities in cities that use them. He said there is a critical need for that in San Jose.

    “We’ve seen a horrific increase in auto related deaths and we know from our data (that in) 30% of those auto fatalities, speeding constituted a key factor of that collision,” he said.

    Liccardo’s interest in the bill reflects the city’s concern with its growing traffic fatalities. San Jose approached near record numbers of deaths last year, and 2022 may shatter the record of 60 deaths in a year. At least 23 people have died in traffic collisions over the past three months. For perspective, San Jose recorded nine traffic deaths for the first three months of 2021. Liccardo recently announced a $6 million plan to increase safety projects, such as street barriers for pedestrians, protected bike lanes and street lighting.

    Former Assemblymember David Chiu tried to pass a similar bill last year that would have allowed San Jose and other large cities to start speed safety camera pilot programs. The bill died in the appropriations committee. California Walks, a pedestrian advocacy organization, opposed the bill on grounds it would disproportionately harm drivers unable to pay fines.

    Becca Cramer-Mowder, a legislative coordinator and advocate for ACLU California Action, told the committee her organization opposes the bill.

    “There are other means of reducing speed-based traffic collisions that do not implicate privacy and equity,” she said, citing the use of traffic circles, speed bumps and other traffic calming measures. “Yet rather than center these approaches, the bill instead relies on surveillance, automated enforcement and increased ticketing.”

    According to AB 2336, drivers would face a $50 fine for going 11-15 miles per hour over the posted speed limit; $100 for 16-25 miles per hour over; $200 for 26 miles per hour or more and $500 for traveling 100 miles or more over the speed limit.

    Local considerations

    San Jose’s Vision Zero program launched in 2015 and plans improvements on streets that see a disproportionate number of traffic-related deaths and injuries. Jesse Mintz-Roth, program manager for the Vision Zero task force, said if the state legalizes automated speed cameras, they shouldn’t only focus on school zone safety as other states have done.

    “Older adults are our most vulnerable road users,” Mintz-Roth told San José Spotlight. “We would be well served to have cameras operational during a lot of the day, and also on our priority safety corridors—many of which do not run directly by schools—where 30-40% of fatal and severe injuries occur in most years.”

    Shiloh Ballard, executive director of the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition, told San José Spotlight her organization supports using speed safety cameras, but noted the devil is in the details.

    “Where they are deployed, who owns the data, what the penalties are—these are all critical questions that have to be addressed so that these supposedly neutral technologies don’t get implemented in a way that exacerbates existing inequities,” she said.

    Buki Wilson, a San Jose resident and cyclist, told San José Spotlight he believes the cameras would help because their presence would prompt some drivers to slow down. But he favors a multi-pronged approach to traffic safety, including building up infrastructure that forces drivers to not speed.

    “I think there needs to be a more systemic way of slowing people down,” he said. “If that’s cameras, great, but I’m in favor of anything that slows people down.”

    Contact Eli Wolfe at [email protected] or @EliWolfe4 on Twitter.

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