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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
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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