A California State Senator representing San Mateo introduced legislation earlier this month seeking to drastically reduce fines for drivers that fail to come to a complete stop before making a right turn on red. The bill came about as a result of Senator Jerry Hill's "Oughta Be A Law" contest wherein constituents can recommend potential new laws directly to the elected official, and it would apply to the entire state.
The fine for not coming to a complete stop at a red light currently sits at $500, and Senator Hill's Senate Bill 681 seeks to cut that in half to $250. It seems some of his constituents (surprise) were upset about getting hit with the fine.
"Almost $500 for rolling into a parking lot seems absolutely egregious," motorist Keith Gorman told ABC 7 after being ticketed for failing to come to a complete stop at a red light. "We do alright, but I thought this could really, really damage somebody who doesn't make that much money. Somebody who's maybe an hourly employee," Gorman observed.
For his part, Democratic Senator Hill seems to be coming at this from the place of seeking to alleviate (in his view) undue burdens on his constituents, but one has to question whether spending time reducing monetary fines for potentially dangerous moving violations actually benefits the residents of California.
"Many people are making $3,000 a month, $2,500 and when you take taxes, their net take-home pay, this is over a fourth of what they take home," Hill told ABC.
That on a statewide level elected officials are working to reduce fines for rolling red lights is sure to raise eyebrows in San Francisco, especially as cycling and safe-streets activists struggle to get Supervisor John Avalos's bicycle "Idaho Stop" legislation signed into law (requests for comment to
both Walk SF [see below update] and the SF Bicycle Coalition have not been returned as of press time).
It is worth remembering that drivers making right turns on red, and failing to properly yield to pedestrians in the process, can have tragic results — it was exactly this circumstance which caused the 2013 New Year's Eve death of 6-year-old Sophia Liu when an Uber driver made a right turn on red into the girl as she crossed the street (in the crosswalk).
The bill has yet to become law, but ABC 7 notes that while a similar bill was vetoed in 2010, "Hill is optimistic it will pass this time around."
Update, January 20: The Executive Director of Walk SF, Nicole Ferrara, provided us with the following statement:
"Walk SF is disappointed to see our State leaders stepping backwards on safety. Driving a 2 ton vehicle is an immense responsibility, and this legislation sends the signal to everyone who drives that some rules can be bent. California should be proud of the lives saved vis-a-vis the red light camera program. Weakening the law does a disservice to everyone, whether you're walking, biking, a passenger, or driving."