Newsom’s Deeply Disappointing Vetoes of Traffic Safety Bills

The governor relied on flawed safety data to argue that bike stop sign and "jaywalking" bills would somehow decrease safety, while data shows the opposite.

So true... and yet, even Governors seem to believe in magic these days
So true... and yet, even Governors seem to believe in magic these days

At the very deadline for signing bills, Governor Newsom vetoed two important traffic safety bills that had garnered wide support among legislators as well as a broad range of organizations.

Newsom rejected both A.B. 122, the Bicycle Safety Stop, and A.B. 1238, the Pedestrian Access Bill. His stated reasons for those vetoes miss the mark, relying on “official” but problematic data about pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities, while ignoring more applicable research and data on the effects that these two bills would have on vulnerable road user safety.

The Bicycle Safety Stop bill would have changed the law to acknowledge that stop signs, while useful for controlling vehicle speed and interactions at intersections, can lead to serious problems. For years, people have been investigating and writing about this dynamic. The California Bicycle Coalition put together an excellent video explaining how and why the bill would increase safety outcomes. Other states that have implemented the Safety Stop have reported zero safety problems after the new rules. Delaware published a study showing a 23 percent decrease in bicycle collisions at intersections after they adopted a similar bill.

But Newsom ignored all of this. “While I share the author’s intent to increase bicyclist safety, I am concerned this bill will have the opposite effect,” he wrote in his veto message. “The approach in A.B. 122 may be especially concerning for children, who may not know how to judge vehicle speeds or exercise the necessary caution to yield to traffic when appropriate.”

While children’s safety was used as an argument against the bill in some of its legislative hearings, the concept that children are in special danger from it was never backed up by data. It falls on the ears more as an emotional plea than one grounded in logic.

Children can learn what “yield” means just as easily as they can learn the meaning of “stop.” And, as the bill is written, if there’s ever any doubt, the answer is simply to stop. A.B. 122 was never a free pass for bike riders to blow stop signs.

Newsom uncritically quoted crash fault data from the Statewide Integrated Traffic Records System (SWITRS) to buoy his veto. But SWITRS data has been shown to be a lousy source of information on this particular subject. It is not only incomplete and inconsistent, it is wholly dependent on police being able to report without bias. But police, like many others, hold a windshield perspective that biases them towards accepting a driver’s testimony without question – and the perspectives of dead cyclists and pedestrians don’t have a chance of being recorded in SWITRS.

Newsom used similar arguments, and data, in his veto of A.B. 1238, the bill that would have decriminalized “jaywalking.”

“I am concerned that A.B. 1238 will unintentionally reduce pedestrian safety and potentially increase fatalities or serious injuries caused by pedestrians that enter our roadways at inappropriate locations,” he wrote. However, nothing in A.B. 1238 would have allowed pedestrians to cross a street if it is unsafe. It would only allow them to use common sense and not have to rely on white paint to protect them.

Here too it seems that Newsom failed to do his homework, not even watching this simple video explainer on jaywalking. His veto comes from the perspective of a person who drives or is driven everywhere, and who never needs to cross a street that lacks marked crossings. In other words, it’s pure fantasy.

“Governor Newsom showed today he doesn’t understand the needs of people who use bikes for everyday transportation,” wrote Dave Snyder, Executive Director of CalBike, in a press statement. A.B. 122 “would have reduced conflict between bike riders and car drivers. I’m disappointed that, while climate change ravages our state, the governor blocked a popular measure that would have helped more people choose carbon-free transportation.”

Assemblymember Tasha Boerner Horvath, who authored the Bike Safety Stop Bill, expressed her disappointment that Newsom rejected a proposal “that has already proven effective at increasing safety for bicyclists in other states.”

“This bill was specifically designed to address the very safety concerns the Governor cited as the reason for his veto,” she wrote in a statement to the press. “By allowing bicyclists the option of safely yielding at stop sign-controlled intersections, it reduced the amount of time they spent crossing the intersection — the very reason they are exposed to more risk under current law.”

At least the question of arbitrary and inequitable enforcement did not go completely unnoticed by Newsom in his veto of the jaywalking bill.

“I want to thank [bill author Assemblymember Phil Ting] for bringing this important issue forward,” he wrote. “Unequal enforcement of jaywalking laws and the use of minor offenses like it as a pretext to stop people of color, especially in under-resourced communities, is unacceptable and must be addressed.”

But, he insists, somehow eliminating jaywalking as a criminal offense would “risk worsening California’s pedestrian safety.” Then he punted the enforcement question to the enforcers: “In the meantime, I strongly encourage local governments to conduct a review of the demographics and enforcement levels of jaywalking in their communities and to identify and address concerns at the local level as appropriate,” he wrote.

“The governor’s veto rests on the belief that police enforcement or the threat of jaywalking tickets will somehow prevent pedestrian fatalities in the future when that has consistently failed in the past,” wrote Jared Sanchez, CalBike Senior Policy Advocate, in their statement. “Continuing to criminalize people’s rational, predictable responses to poor infrastructure is simply unjust.”

“Policing jaywalking often amounts to punishing people for the lack of government services in their community,” he added.

These vetoes are discouraging. It’s not the first time these law changes have been attempted, but this time around both bills enjoyed broad support throughout the lengthy legislative process.

“This is a tremendous loss not only for racial justice across California but also for active transportation as a whole as Governor Newsom failed to recognize the importance of non-automobile modes of travel,” said CalBike’s Sanchez. “But the Freedom to Walk Act has helped spark a national conversation about unjust jaywalking laws that can’t be stopped by one misguided veto.”

Meanwhile, the author of the Bicycle Safety Stop bill, Boerner Horvath, says she isn’t giving up. “I remain committed to advancing this policy, and will continue to monitor its effectiveness in the ten other states who already have made it law,” she wrote in a press statement. “While I welcome the Governor’s commitment to put more resources towards active transportation projects to expand our accessible bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure for the future, this policy presents a viable option that would improve bicycle safety and start saving lives today using our existing network.”

Governor Newsom, these vetoes were a mistake.

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Photo: Melanie Curry/Streetsblog

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