Less green for red

Lawmakers slash cost of ‘California stop’

Jesse Lamkin fought a red-light ticket. And he nearly won. The 27-year-old Citrus Heights resident, who works as a car-parts delivery driver, said he was unable to pay his Sacramento County fine for running a red. “I couldn’t afford the $436. That’s, like, a third of my income,” Lamkin explained.

So he went to court—and the ticket was reduced to $65.

He’s not alone: In the past year, a growing number of Sacramentans have successfully eased the cost of illegal right-turn-on-red violations, or what’s commonly referred to as the “California stop” or RTOR.

Now Assembly Bill 909, which recently passed the state Legislature and awaits Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s signature, would permanently reduce “California stop” red-light fees by half.

And while this reduction will impact local government revenues, Citrus Heights red-light enforcement officer Michael Murray, who covers six area intersections and points out that the technology has reduced accidents by 17 percent, actually agrees that RTOR fines need to be trimmed.

“It shouldn’t be the same as someone going 30 miles per hour,” he said. “I’m an aggressive enforcer of traffic laws, but I feel there are different levels of seriousness. I think [driving straight through] is more serious than someone doing a ‘California stop.’”

Lamkin, too, thinks the lowered fees are fair. “I did pass the line,” he admitted. “[But] because I did stop ever so briefly, I shouldn’t be accountable for the whole fine.”

RTOR fines have gone up in the past two years. In May 2008, fees in Sacramento County were $381. In April 2009, they jumped to $424. And now they are currently $436.

Murray said he issues approximately 500 red-light citations each month.

A.B. 909 would change both California Vehicle Code Section 21453(a) and also cut the base fine on an RTOR from $100 to $35. And the drop on the total ticket amount would be significant, to somewhere near $219. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has until September 30 to sign or veto the bill.

There are currently 18 intersections in Sacramento County with red-light cameras. This number is expected to jump to 22 over the next couple months, with new lights going up at Arden and Challenge ways, Fifth and I streets, Highway 99 and Calvine Road in Elk Grove, and Elk Horn and Don Julio boulevards in North Highlands. The decision to put up the cameras is based on accident-frequency data, Murray explained.

There likely will be even more red-light growing pains soon.

The website www.highwayrobbery.net, which advises readers on matters varying from how to protest tickets to where your city’s red-light cameras are located, argues that tactics such as “unfriendly” or quick yellow lights and “snitch tickets,” where car owners turn in those who borrowed their car, soon might be eliminated.

Still, the repercussions of running a red can be very real. According to the Federal Highway Administration, red-light running is estimated to produce more than 100,000 crashes and approximately 1,000 deaths per year in the United States.