Dan Walters: Red light cameras under legal siege

August 2, 2013 

One of San Diego Mayor Bob Filner's first acts this year — before he became preoccupied with other affairs — was to end the use of cameras to catch motorists running red lights, labeling them "the San Diego version of a traffic trap." It was the latest in a string of recent setbacks for the devices, indicating that they may be on the way out of California.

Redflex Traffic Systems has dominated the red light camera industry, claiming they improve safety and persuading cities and counties to install them in return for a share of fines.

However, critics say the cameras mostly snag motorists who don't come to a complete stop before making turns, rather than those running through intersections. Opponents have accused cities of setting yellow lights at camera-protected intersections on minimal times to ensnare more motorists.

Two years ago, Los Angeles shut down its cameras and several other cities have followed suit. Currently more than 50 local governments use them, but a similar number have rejected them.

Last year, a state appellate court issued the most authoritative judicial ruling on the issue to date. It declared that using data from Redflex to convict motorists of running red lights, without verification, denies ticketed drivers the right to confront accusers.

That published decision (California vs. Borzakian) didn't abolish red light cameras, but significantly raised the legal barrier.

This year's red light camera battle is being fought over Assembly Bill 612.

Carried by Assemblyman Adrin Nazarian, D-Burbank, the measure would chip away at red light cameras by requiring local governments using them to add an additional second to all yellow lights, over the current legal minimum.

AB 612 is the handiwork of the anti-camera Safer Streets LA, but enjoys support from the AAA auto clubs, many transportation unions and the Association of California Highway Patrolmen. Redflex, of course, is among the opponents.


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