Could California local speeds soon be lowered?

| 8/11/2011

With about one month remaining in the regular session, California lawmakers could soon take up for consideration a bill to give communities leeway in setting speed limits and, as a result, to reduce yellow light intervals.

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.

Once the California Legislature returns from summer break on Monday, Aug. 15, the Senate can vote on a bill – AB529 – to give local governments the option to round speed limits down after a traffic study. If approved there, the bill would move to the Assembly for approval of changes before it could advance to the governor’s desk.

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.

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 use 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. They say 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.

Truck driver and OOIDA Life Member Dave Snellings of Crofton, MD, has been researching the use of red-light cameras since the ’90s. He cited research from the Federal Highway Administration, which 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.”

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

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