California, South Carolina bills address speed issues

| 7/6/2011

A California bill on the move would give communities leeway in setting speed limits, and would reduce yellow light intervals. In South Carolina, a new law puts an end to the use of automated enforcement.

Since 2004, California law has required cities to round up their speed limits starting at the 85th percentile of travel speeds. The posted speed must be rounded to the nearest 5 mph increment.

Awaiting consideration on the Assembly floor is a bill – AB529 – to give local governments the option to round speed limits down after a traffic study. Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Los Angeles, said the current setup allows speeders to dictate the limits set.

“This is one of the only sections of law where we allow scofflaws to set the law,” Gatto told lawmakers during recent discussion on the bill.

He said if the process is allowed to continue, communities with residential streets once posted at 25 mph could soon see speeds 10 to 15 mph faster.

“It’s a tremendous public safety risk.”

Another issue resulting from lower posted speeds is shorter yellow times. In California, the difference in yellow time on roads posted at 30 mph compared to 35 mph is 0.4 seconds less.

The issue is of particular concern in California because communities throughout the state utilize red-light cameras under the guise of increasing safety on roadways. Violations can exceed $500 with court costs.

Critics of the plan to authorize lower speeds say the change provides communities an opportunity to set up speed traps.

Truck driver and OOIDA Life Member Dave Snellings of Crofton, MD, has been researching the use of red-light cameras since the 90s. He said that if politicians in California and elsewhere are truly concerned about safety they should make a point of extending yellow times, or providing advance warning signs.

Snellings cited the Federal Highway Administration’s Manual for Uniform Traffic Control Devices. The research determined that the duration of yellow change intervals should be as long as six seconds.

“These so-called public servants are intentionally looking for ways to shake us down,” Snellings said. “They tell us it is about safety. It is totally disingenuous.”

Meanwhile, a new law in South Carolina effectively puts a stop to one community in Jasper County posting cameras on Interstate 95 to nab speeders.

According to reports, the town of Ridgeland has issued about 10,000 tickets since August 2010. The town posted an officer nearby inside an RV and tickets were mailed to the registered owners.

Gov. Nikki Haley signed into law a bill to outlaw speeding tickets based on photos. S336 also requires police to directly hand tickets to drivers within an hour of a violation.

Snellings said the focus on whether cameras should be used to enforce traffic rules is a distraction from a bigger problem. Instead, he said fixed-time stop lights need to be addressed. Fixed-time stop lights have predetermined light cycles every few seconds, regardless of traffic flow.

“When you approach an intersection, you have a right to expect that light will not change if there is no cross traffic sitting at that intersection,” Snellings said. “All of us, whether you are driving a truck or a car, are operating at a disadvantage.”

To view other legislative activities of interest for South Carolina, click here. To view other legislative activities of interest for California, click here.

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