What ‘Breaker, Breaker’ Says About Bill Banning Red Light Cameras

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Serious confession by your blogger: I am an enormous of fan of the 1977 Chuck Norris film, Breaker, Breaker, in which Mr. Norris takes on a corrupt town whose police and judge prey upon unsuspecting motorists passing through, by stopping them and demanding extortionate fees (and beating them up or imprisoning if they don't comply). In the stirring finale, Norris and some truckers burn the town to the ground.

So, in the battle against California cities that use cameras to catch and levy heavy fines on motorists who run red lights, new state legislation to be debated Wednesday seems modest. AB 1008 would ban automated traffic enforcement systems, including red light cameras.

Such legislation makes sense in one policy way. The cameras have been used by cities less as a safety device (there's little evidence that the cameras make the roads safer) than as a way to produce revenues. Fines of $400 are handed out when you're caught on camera passing a little too late through the light. And since motorists don't receive notices until weeks later, it may be hard for them to remember the moment and circumstances. (I once got such a notice in the city of West Hollywood, and paid the fine simply because I couldn't recollect enough about my driving that day to contest it).

On the other hand, the state should be reluctant to tell local governments what to do, particularly in times like these. California's cities, counties and special districts deserve more freedom to govern themselves as they see fit. At a time when the state is cutting its budget (approximately 70 percent of which is money for local governments), cutting off a local government revenue stream feels heavy-handed.

This is one issue where it feels like a compromise is needed: legislation that prevents abuses by local governments without restricting their ability to police their streets (and find revenues).

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