Capitol Alert

Rolling right on red could soon be cheaper in California

Two state lawmakers are making another attempt at lowering the fine for drivers who fail to completely stop at a red light before making a right turn.

Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, and Sen. Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica, introduced Senate Bill 1132 Tuesday, which would reduce the base fine for not fully stopping before turning right on red to $35 from $100.

After tacking on extra fees and surcharges, the $100 fine can leap up to about $500, which has surprised and angered many constituents and is “not commensurate” with the seriousness of the violation, Hill said.

“This is a matter of fairness,” Hill said. “Make no mistake: Failure to fully stop at a red light is against the law. This bill does not change that, but it would make the penalty for rolling right turns through a red light fit the violation.”

Hill pushed similar legislation the past few years, but the measures died amid opposition from police. Hill said lowering the fine is necessary, as the existing penalty for right turn violations was mistakenly included in 1997 legislation that increased fines for running through red lights.

That legislation meant to target drivers who go straight through or take left turns at red lights, which are more dangerous maneuvers than right-on-red turns, Hill said. SB 1132 would not change the $100 base fine for going straight or left without stopping.

“The base fine for this offense should have never been so high, and it needs to change,” Hill said.

Actions such as passing unsafely or driving the wrong way on a one-way street or on a sidewalk result in $70 base fines. Hill said right-on-red violations rarely result in accidents and do not deserve a higher penalty than those dangerous maneuvers.

Drivers who hit pedestrians or cyclists while not completely stopping before turning right on red would still face higher penalties under the bill.

Hill also said red-light cameras, which record some right-turn-on-red violations and have been the subject of controversy, are not always accurate. In his hometown of San Mateo, Hill said red-light cameras that monitor right-on-red turns were installed last year, but the camera company “could not identify one bit of evidence” showing rolling right-on-red turns to be a serious safety risk.

“The only reason (for the red-light cameras) is the revenue they could generate,” Hill said. “It is a cash cow.”

The California Police Chiefs Association was opposed to Hill’s past attempts to lower the right-on-red fine, arguing a lower fine would lead to more accidents involving pedestrians and bicyclists and would hurt the state financially. The association does not yet have a position on SB 1132.

AAA Northern California supports the bill.

“We believe that fines handed down to drivers for breaking the law should reflect the severity of the problem,” John Moreno, manager of public affairs for AAA Northern California, said in a statement. “Rolling through a right turn at a stoplight is not the same as a driver who completely disregards the stoplight all together.”

If SB 1132 becomes law, then the lowered fine would take effect July 1, 2019.

Billy Kobin: (916) 321-1860, @Billy_Kobin

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