Is it worth sacrificing privacy in order to save lives? That is a question that is currently being debated in California.
There is currently an ongoing discussion over the legality of a legislative proposal that would authorize some cities in California to use cameras to enforce speed limits. Assembly Bill 645, or AB645, would allow Los Angeles, San Jose, Oakland, Glendale, and Long Beach, as well as the city and county of San Francisco, to use cameras (known as automated speed enforcement, or ASE) to detect speed limit violations, photograph the license plate, and transmit the data so a citation can be sent to the vehicle’s registered owner.
The goal of this bill is to alter driver behavior and ultimately save lives, including those of pedestrians and bicyclists. In 2022, there were a recorded 159,623 car accidents in the state of California. According to Walk San Francisco, speed is the number one cause of severe and fatal crashes in California. Those in favor of this bill believe that traffic speed enforcement helps to reduce traffic accidents that result in injuries and death. According to the City of Oakland’s website, other cities with similar programs have reduced fatal crashes by up to seventy-nine percent. Supporters of the bill also believe that traditional speed enforcement methods disproportionately target individuals of color, and the biases of law enforcement officers may put these individuals at greater risk.
Major supporters of AB645 include Walk San Francisco and the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition.
There are some that have opposed AB645, including Human Rights Watch. Olivia Ensign, senior advocate for Human Rights Watch, penned a letter to Senator Portantino, the Chair of the California Senate Appropriations Committee, explaining her organization’s opposition to the bill. According to the letter, Ensign believes the use of speed detection cameras will disproportionately target Black, Indigenous, and People of Color communities. She argues that using cameras to enforce speed limits will increase racial bias, expand surveillance in communities that are already unequally surveilled, and raise concerns of lack of due process. She also believes that use of these devices diverts resources from others areas that could be more effective.
There are solutions to the problems that have been raised written into the bill. These solutions include an offering of a fine reduction of between fifty and eighty percent if the violator is unable to pay, classifying the citations as non-moving violations so no points are added to the driver’s record, and prohibiting the use of facial recognition software. There will be a 60 day warning period before any fines are issued.