A State Legislator Is Really Proposing to Slash Fines for Running a Red Light to Turn Right

State Senator Jerry Hill (D-Millbrae) has been earning a lot of attention recently for a proposal to slash the fine for drivers turning right at a red light without stopping. This move seems particularly heartless considering California’s streak of leading the country in traffic fatalities, nearly a quarter of which were pedestrians. Failure to yield is one of the top five causes of traffic crashes.

A truck inches through the crosswalk, ready to make a right. Photo: Damien Newton
A truck inches through the crosswalk, ready to make a right. Photo: Damien Newton

Hill’s legislation reduces the fine for rolling through a red light. His statements in the press have focused on the unfairness of ticketing a driver shooting through a red light at forty miles an hour at the same level as a driver turning right without stopping. Hill’s legislation would halve the fine for red-light runners who are turning from $500 to $250.

But rather than acknowledging the unsafe driving crisis in the state, Hill is focusing his attention on a different boogeyman: red light cameras. Many of the tickets his constituents complain about are from red light camera programs in Millbrae and San Mateo.

“I think the public outcry over red light cameras is growing and I think the governor is becoming more sensitive as he raised the issue over the large amount of assessments and add-ons that go into traffic tickets,” Hill told the San Mateo Daily Journal when he introduced the legislation.

In the same piece, Hill points to national data from 1998 that back up his argument that turning right at a red light without stopping isn’t all that dangerous. Needless to say, safety advocates are not impressed with Hill’s arguments.

“There’s a reason that the law says come to a complete stop before making a right–for the safety of people, especially those on foot,” wrote Nicole Ferrara, the executive director of Walk SF, in an email to Streetsblog. “This proposal to reduce the severity of these fines sends the signal to drivers that running red lights, not coming to complete stops, and not taking the time to look for people in crosswalks is all fine and good. We disagree. Stopping is part of driving, and it’s a disappointment that some of our state leaders don’t understand that.”

The issue of reducing fines for running a red light comes after San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee vetoed efforts to direct law enforcement away from ticketing bicyclists who cautiously roll through stop signs. Ted Rogers, a bike blogger and a Board Member for the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, fumed, “Meanwhile, a state legislator tries to make running red lights more legal for motorists. Evidently, ‘stop’ means ‘stop’ only if you’re on a bike.”

The last time legislation was offered to reduce fines for turning right on red without stopping was in 2010. The legislation made it to the Governor’s desk, despite opposition from safety advocates and law enforcement organizations, before being vetoed. Hill hopes that the unpopularity of red light cameras with scofflaw motorists will make that veto harder to write in 2016.

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  • Ken

    Or you just come to a full and complete stop behind the line like the law says and it’s not a problem. Driving is a privilege, not an entitlement.

  • DiegoHenry

    If you are flying in or out of SFO, do not drive on nearby
    Millbrae Avenue between El Camino, the BART station, and the 101 freeway, or on the offramp from the southbound 101, because in two months in late 2015 the City of Millbrae issued 2397 red light camera tickets (worth $1.2 million in fines) in that half mile stretch, nearly all for rolling right turns. If you have friends who will be going thru SFO, or renting a car there, warn them about the trap. (“If it says Millbrae,stay away.”)

    Down South in LA, the Beverly Hills
    council just voted to expand their already-punishing camera system by 2/3.
    Neighboring Culver City is adding
    more right turn enforcement to their system.

    If you plan to drive around California,
    be prepared. Do a search on snitch ticket and another search on red light
    camera no consequence. Because just one of California’s
    camera tickets can ruin your whole day.

  • caryl

    Yes, this. The current fines for bicyclists make absolutely no sense and are especially punitive for low income people who walk and bike. Does anyone know whether the California Bicycle Coalition is pushing for lower fines? I realize a bike yield law is pretty much dead in the water at the state level, but adjusting fines so that they reflect the actual risks pedestrians and bicyclists pose to others’ safety seems much less controversial. And if the fines for rolling red lights are reduced, wouldn’t it be perfect timing to push for similar fine reductions for pedestrians and bicyclists based on the same argument of them posing less danger to others?

  • BBnet3000

    Only one complaint:

    nearly a quarter of which

    Nearly a quarter of whom

  • jd_x

    Okay, so Senator Hill is all about looking at the risk of a violation and creating a fine in accordance with the risk to public safety that violation presents, correct? Awesome, then he better get to work lowering the fines bicyclists and pedestrians receive when they break the law since their violations rarely pose a threat to anyone but themselves to due to their low mass and speed. Right now, a bicyclist pays the same fine as 2-ton vehicle with 200 hp for rolling a stop sign or red light even though they present a fraction of the risk to society. But let me guess: Senator Hill is not proposing such a thing and never will. What a surprise that car-centric bias obliterates people’s rationality.

  • Lower fines can lead to better acceptance of automated enforcement. I’m all for it.

  • helloandyhihi

    We need dramatically more automated enforcement and we’re not going to get it with outrageous $500 fines. I’m a *huge* advocate for camera enforcement.

    The way to make automated enforcement work is to have so many fixed and randomly placed cameras that people just start driving safely all the time.

    Automated enforcement can issue a lot more tickets, which is great. But we can’t make the fines so high that people freak out and contact their elected officials every time they get one.