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New 6-15-10, updated 8-14-16
2010 & 2016:  Bills Attempting to Reduce the Fine for Rolling Right Turns - All Failed

(AB 909 of 2010, SB 986 of 2016)

"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."
Edmund Burke 1729 - 1797

AB 909 of 2010 (Hill) was touted as cutting the fine for a rolling right turn by about half.  Also, prior to a June 14 amendment, the bill would have revised the law to allow a motorist to turn right without having to stop, so long as he or she did not interfere with a pedestrian's or another motorist's right-of-way.

[Late note:  On Sept. 29, AB 909 was vetoed by Governor Schwarzenegger.]

In Feb. 2016 Sen. Hill filed SB 986, a very similar bill, which failed to make it out of the Legislature.


Early History of AB 909

On Mar. 16, 2010 Assemblymember Jerry Hill (D - San Mateo) made a  request for the Legislative Analyst to study red light cameras. He asked most of the right questions, such as: "Is the amount charged... appropriate for the crime committed?" and "Should red light cameras be used to issue right turn on red tickets?"
Hill received the analyst's report on May 14. 
On May 27 the first version of AB 909 was published.
There was formal opposition even before it was published, and more after it was published, from the California Police Chief's Association, whose president is the chief from San Mateo.

The idea for AB 909 may have come from the City of Los Angeles, which until Aug. 2008 cited its rolling right violations under 21453(b), which resulted in a total fine of $159.  For more details, see Set # 2 on the City of LA Docs page.
 

AB 909 tried to accomplish the fine reduction by reclassifying a rolling right turn as a violation of CVC 21453(b), instead of the present 21453(a).  The (b) violation, not presently used for camera tickets, never had its fine increased to $100 (base) like (a) and (c) did.


The Present Law, and How I Think It Works

Latest edit:  12-30-13

CVC 21453 has three subsections applicable to motorists. 

(a)  A driver facing a steady circular red signal alone shall stop at a marked limit line, but if none, before entering the crosswalk on the near side of the intersection or, if none, then before entering the intersection, and shall remain stopped until an indication to proceed is shown, except as provided in subdivision (b).

Subsection (a) is the one presently used for all straight-thru violations, and most rolling right turns.  For (a), the "base" fine - before heavy surcharges which bring it up to (approx.) $500 - is $100.

(b)  Except when a sign is in place prohibiting a turn, a driver, after stopping as required by subdivision (a), facing a steady circular red signal, may turn right, or turn left from a one-way street onto a one-way street. A driver making that turn shall yield the right-of-way to pedestrians lawfully within an adjacent crosswalk and to any vehicle that has approached or is approaching so closely as to constitute an immediate hazard to the driver, and shall continue to yield the right-of-way to that vehicle until the driver can proceed with reasonable safety.

The base fine for (b) is $35, so with surcharges the full fine is (approx.) $300.

(c)  A driver facing a steady red arrow signal shall not enter the intersection to make the movement indicated by the arrow and, unless entering the intersection to make a movement permitted by another signal, shall stop at a clearly marked limit line, but if none, before entering the crosswalk on the near side of the intersection, or if none, then before entering the intersection, and shall remain stopped until an indication permitting movement is shown.

The base fine for (c) is $100, and this subsection is the one presently used for left turn violations and those few right turns that are controlled by a red arrow.

How It Works

I believe that 21453(b) should be used where a motorist facing a circular red makes a full stop behind the limit line - so he has not violated (a) - but then makes a right turn which blocks a pedestrian or gets in the way of a motorist coming from the left who has the right-of-way (ROW) because his signal is green.  And maybe (b) should also be used if a motorist violates a posted No Turn on Red sign; even among traffic cops (archived copy) there is no general agreement as to which section to cite for that sign violation; in addition to 21453(b) they like to use 21461 and 22101(d) - both of which also have a base fine of $35.  Per CVC 40518, cameras cannot be used to enforce 21461, so we only need to look at 22101(d), which says:

(c) When right- or left-hand turns are prohibited at an intersection notice of such prohibition shall be given by erection of a sign.

(d) When official traffic control devices are placed as required in subdivisions (b) or (c), it shall be unlawful for any driver of a vehicle to disobey the directions of such official traffic control devices.

If there is a red arrow signal (not a circular red) prohibiting the right turn, I think 21453(c) can be used.

How It Got This Way

Mr. Hill (author of AB 909) wrote that the 1997 fine increase was meant to apply just to straight-thru violations, and that its application to right turns was inadvertent. That needs a little clarification. In 1997, there wasn't yet a minimum length for the yellows, so the cities were able to use short yellows to write lots of straight-thru tickets.  And, due to technical limitations (back then, red light cameras captured only "before and after" still shots - no video), there was no ticketing for rolling rights.  Then in 2001, CVC 21455.7 was enacted and it set minimum yellows and made many cities lengthen theirs, causing ticketing - and income - to drop way off.  But technology stepped in to save the day. Computer memory and video cameras both were getting cheaper, and better. The camera companies added video to their camera systems, and voila, they were able to start citing for right turns. (Without video, it is difficult to prove a right turn violation.)



There were five versions of the bill.


The May 27 Version
of AB 909

  Before May 27, 2010, AB 909 was about a totally different subject (the Election Code), and the bill was going nowhere.  Then on May 27 Assemblyman Hill "gutted and amended" it; he removed all the Election Code language, and changed the subject to traffic fines.  The May 27 language moved rolling right turns to Subsection (b) - which has a much lower base fine.  But more significantly, the May 27 version of the bill also would have removed the requirement to make a full stop.
(b) Except when a sign is in place prohibiting a turn, a driver,
after stopping as required by subdivision (a),
facing a steady circular red signal, may turn right, or turn left
from a one-way street onto a one-way street. A driver making that
turn shall yield the right-of-way to pedestrians lawfully within an
adjacent crosswalk and to any vehicle that has approached or is
approaching so closely as to constitute an immediate hazard to the
driver, and shall continue to yield the right-of-way to that vehicle
until the driver can proceed with reasonable safety.
CVC 21453(b), as proposed in May 27 Version of AB 909 (Portion)
Subsection (b) of the May 27 version made it a violation only if the driver fails to yield the right-of way!

This proposed change brought immediate and heavy opposition, and I heard that an amendment was in the works, so on June 3 I wrote:

June 3, 2010

To the Office of Assemblymember Jerry Hill -

I could have supported the May 27 version of AB 909, as it would have made rolling right tickets go only to the few motorists who have been shown to have violated the right-of-way of another motorist, a bicyclist, or a pedestrian - thus justifying the still-heavy (approx.) $250 fine the bill proposes.  But I cannot support a version which reduces the fine but does not address the severity of the violation - thus the quantity of tickets - because even a $250 fine, plus the accompanying "point" on one's DMV record, is too heavy a punishment for the typical rolling right violation.  For sake of comparison, I would mention that New York City charges $50, and no point, for the same violation.

A further disadvantage of a bill that does not address the quantity of rolling right tickets is that it does nothing about court congestion. In your district, the court system is collapsing in upon itself because the cities are pumping out an (est.) 6000 red light camera tickets each month - most of which are for rolling right turns. It's gotten so bad that if you want to see a judge about your ticket (maybe to ask for a reduction in the $500 fine, or for a payment plan), you have to line up outside the court building in the wee hours of the morning, just to get a seat in the courtroom. The southern end of Alameda County has the same problem. 

Even though I cannot support a reduced-fine-only version of AB 909, I understand that you will probably move ahead with such a version, and would like to suggest that any fine reduction also be applied to left turns.  I suggest this because we already have some cities (Corona and Santa Clarita) which have focused their cameras almost exclusively on left turn lanes, and it is reasonable to expect that if rolling right tickets are made less profitable, other cities will begin to emphasize left-turn enforcement. (Santa Clarita's data, available at http://highwayrobbery.net/redlightcamsdocsSantaClaritaMain.html , shows that for the first quarter of 2010, 95.6% of violations recorded there were left turns.)

If for any reason you are not able to reduce the fines for left turns, an alternative would be to provide that for a camera-enforced left turn, the length of the yellow be increased from the present minimum of 3.0 seconds, up to 4.0 seconds.  A one-second increase has the effect of reducing violations by approx. 2/3, and the effect would be permanent - there is no "rebound" over time, even after the passage of several years.  Your district contains an example of the public being abused by a 3.0[*] second left-turn yellow.  At the left turn from Bayfront to Willow [coming off the Dumbarton Bridge] the attached official signal timing chart says that the yellow for the left turn is 3.0 while the yellow for the through movement is 5.0.  That disparity, combined with the high speeds possible in the very long left turn pocket, generates approx. 100 tickets per month. But if we look at the "bar charts" for that intersection (available at http://highwayrobbery.net/redlightcamsdocsMenloParkMain.html ), we can see that if the yellow had been increased by one second, there would have (using January 2010 as the example) no more than 13 violations.  In other words, a one second longer yellow there would decrease violations by approx. 90%.  Or, conversely, the present too-short yellow means that ten-times too many people are getting tickets.  (For further information about left turn enforcement, and to see an example of the aforementioned 2/3 reduction with no rebound, see "Defect # 9 - C at http://highwayrobbery.net/indexExpanded.htm#Def9 .)

Thank you for giving these thoughts your consideration.

[*Late note:  On July 2, 2010, CalTrans increased the yellow for the Bayfront/Willow left turn to 3.5 seconds.  The extra half second reduced the number of tickets by 90%.  See the Menlo Park Documents page - linked above - to see the actual number of tickets, month-by-month.]



The June 14 Version

The anticipated amendment was made on June 14.  The "after stopping" requirement was put back in.


The June 16 Version

The bill was amended again - after just two days - on June 16. While the June 14 version included language limiting the right turn (base) fine to $35...

(b) Every person convicted of... right turn
violations shall be punished by a fine of thirty-five dollars ($35)

the June 16 version seems to allow the fine to float upward...

(b) Every person convicted... shall
be punished by a fine not exceeding one hundred dollars($100).


A reasonable conclusion would be that the only reason for the change in the language is that the legislature anticipates raising the fine!

But even if the proposed base fine of $35 is not raised, the total fine is going up.  There is the $40 statewide surcharge proposed as part of the current budget, and there is a new surcharge which went into effect on June 10, 2010.   This new surcharge, enacted by Executive Session Bill ACX8-3, is $7 on a $35 base fine, and $20 on a $100 base fine.


The July 15 and August 3 Versions


As of Aug. 3, AB 909 seems to have stabilized:

It appears that a rolling right turn will be a violation of 21453(b), and that the fine will be whatever is specified in the general schedule of traffic fines, which presently sets a $35 base fine but could be amended at any time.

On Sep. 14, 2010 a letter in support of AB 909 was written by one of the Legislature's consultants who had worked on AB 1191 of 1997 (which more than doubled the fine).  He wrote:

"...it was always my understanding... that straight-ahead violations would be subject to the new higher $100 base fine while right turn on red violations would be subject to a $35 base fine."


On Sept. 29, AB 909 was vetoed by Governor Schwarzenegger.


In Feb. 2016 Sen. Hill filed SB 986, a bill very similar to AB 909.  It failed to make it out of the Legislature.




For more info about rolling right turns, see the expanded version of Defect # 9.



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