WeHo’s Public Safety Commission had a debate at its last meeting over a proposal by the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department to start ticketing drivers in West Hollywood who make a right turn at a red light without stopping.
Running a red light, whether by racing directly through an intersection or turning right on red without stopping first, is an indisputable violation of the law. But there are questions as to how effective penalties for illegal right turns on red are when it comes to stopping accidents. And many people are upset about the fine associated with those tickets.
The fine actually is $100 for violating the law. But over the years the state legislature has tacked on a host of additional fines designed not to punish one for breaking the law but to help pay for everything from courthouse construction ($50), emergency medical services ($20) and court operations expenses ($40). The end result is a fine of $490.
West Hollywood agreed in 1999 to install a system in which cameras could capture images of vehicles running through red lights. The cameras were installed initially at six intersections and then at 24 approaches to eight intersections on major streets and boulevards such as Santa Monica, Beverly, Robertson and Fountain. The city reports that the program has been successful in reducing accidents and violations in concert with other steps such as installing “count down” pedestrian indicators at traffic light signals and high visibility “zebra” style crosswalks. That system has been used by law enforcement officers to identify cars that drive straight through an intersection while the light was red.
But they didn’t pursue those who turned right on red without stopping because it was assumed those drivers were moving at slower speeds and posing less of a hazard, and that camera system couldn’t easily catch such drivers. The city began installing a new system last year with cameras that can take videos. That system has alerted officers to a number of dangerous situations involving right turns on red. During a 30-day period ending on April 11, deputies saw 250 incidents in which motorists in West Hollywood made right turns on red without stopping, about 100 of which involved vehicles driving at or over 15 miles an hour.
Because of that, the Sheriff’s Department proposes ticketing drivers in West Hollywood who make right turns on red if their vehicle exceeds 15 miles an hour or 10 miles an hour if the department finds other safety concerns.
Jay Beeber, executive director at Safer Streets LA, is a vocal opponent of red light cameras and especially of using them to target drivers making right turns on red. Beeber argues that “most red light running is unintentional and caused by yellow light times that are too short or other engineering deficiencies.”
“Lengthening the yellow signal to the proper time will reduce violations and collisions as much as 50% or more,” he says on the SafeStreetsLA.org website. Referencing Los Angeles, Beeber says “If the city improved the signal timing and fixed any other engineering deficiencies, accidents and violations would drop and there would be no need for photo enforcement. They are spending your money and giving out millions of tickets for no reason.”
Beeber also argues that “Contrary to LAPD claims, any improvement in accident statistics is a result of state-mandated longer yellow times being implemented when the cameras were installed or a decrease in traffic volume.”
Beeber says that ticketing those who make a “rolling right turn” is especially ineffective and is used to generate revenue. “Most Red Light Camera Programs are subsidized by giving out tens of thousands of citations for rolling right turns which rarely cause accidents,” he writes. “At some intersection approaches rolling-right-turn tickets make up as much as 97% of the citations ….The average number of rolling-right-turn collisions each year was 45 out of an average of approximately 56,000 collisions annually in the City of L.A., which represents just 0.079% of all accidents. … The chance that a rolling-right-turn will result in a collision is 0.00029%. This means that a driver would have to make over 345,345 rolling-right turns before they might be involved in an accident. Drivers who make slow, cautious rolling-right turns will likely never cause an accident.”
Should the City of West Hollywood endorse the Sheriff’s Department’s proposal to use its red-light cameras to issue tickets for “rolling-right turns”?