Hill's bill would knock $200 off camera fineBy Mike Rosenberg
Drivers caught by traffic cameras for taking an illegal right turn at a red light would face much cheaper fines than they do now under a bill introduced by a Peninsula legislator on Friday.
The bill from Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, would lower from about $450 to $250 the fine drivers caught on camera pay for turning right on red without fully stopping.
The exact fine varies slightly in different areas of the state.
Although it would provide relief for drivers who roll through right turns, it would cost cities enough money that they may have to yank their cameras altogether.
Currently, police fine drivers caught on camera the same amount whether they run a red light through an intersection or make a right turn on red without fully stopping. Assembly Bill 909 would make the illegal right turn penalty the same as what drivers pay when they are pulled over by police for not fully stopping at a stop sign.
"The distinction between running straight through the red light and making the California roll is not the same," Hill said, referring to the nickname often given to the act of rolling through stop signs. "The punishment should fit the crime."
Hill said motorists around San Mateo County, where nine cities have red-light cameras, have complained the devices have been picking off drivers who do not fully stop before turning right on red.
At one South San Francisco intersection, 98 percent of the 672 tickets given out by red-light cameras during a recent two-month stretch were for right-turn violations.
"It tends to be more of a 'gotcha' type of ticket than what you would consider a real dangerous violation," Hill said.
But with the majority of tickets from many Peninsula cameras coming from right-turn violations, decreasing the fine would cost cities serious revenue. Cities get only about one-fourth of the fine.
In other cities, however, it's less of a concern. Already, Burlingame and San Carlos officials in the past two months voted to take down their cameras because they were not generating enough fine revenue to pay for themselves, and officials in San Bruno voted not to install the devices for the same reason.
In San Jose, officials have delayed installation of the city's first cameras for funding reasons, as well.
The bill will head to its first committee in June, missing the June 4 deadline for passing bills out of Assembly before the end of the current session.
It is part of a larger red-light camera reform attempt being launched by Peninsula legislators.
Hill is co-authoring a bill by state Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, that would require cities to collect at least six months of traffic collision data at an intersection before they can install a red-light camera there.
The Senate will vote on Senate Bill 1362 next week and, if approved, it would head to the Assembly.
Finally, a Legislative Analyst's Office response to Hill's inquiries on the devices revealed that the San Mateo County traffic court processed 31,000 red-light camera tickets last year, or one-fifth of its case load.
The analyst said each ticket takes staffers about 40 minutes to process.
Hill, in saying the courts were overburdened, will help lead a charge in next month's budget talks to add a $40-per-citation fee to red-light-camera vendors, which would generate $28 million annually for local courts.
But the vendors could pass the fee onto cities, which already pay thousands of dollars each month for the cameras.
Copyright ©2010 San Mateo County Times. Published 05/28/2010.