Last year's California Supreme Court decision that upheld the legality
of red-light cameras in Bakersfield may have been the high water mark
for a troubled industry. Since then, both the courts and the Legislature
have taken aim against the program.
Huntington Beach Republican Matthew Harper recently introduced
Assembly Bill 1160, which would prohibit any new red-light cameras and require existing ones
to be supported by a traffic safety study. When the cameras arrived in
The Golden State, advocates claimed they would be a revenue windfall for
local governments and that dangerous intersections would be safer. But
in many places, the "windfall" was barely enough to cover expenses,
and while t-bone intersection crashes have dropped, rear-end collisions
have increased as people stop short to avoid running the light.
Assemblyman Harper opined that this measure may be the death-nail for red-light
cameras. The number of places using them has already dropped to 39 from
a high of 110.
If municipalities fully implement the
Retke decision by recalibrating yellow lights and making the cameras more visible,
they are probably legal under existing law. But in so doing, the cameras
will probably produce even less revenue, because drivers can see them
and they will have more time to make it across the intersection when the
light turns yellow. When the money stops rolling in, the
cameras will go away.
Even if red-light cameras go away in Bakersfield, they might surface again
soon. As government looks for more creative ways to raise revenue and
as respect for civil liberties becomes less in our society, law enforcement
by camera may no longer be the exception, but the norm.