The Sacramento politicians are planning a costly attack on drivers’ wallets by changing the way some traffic violations are defined.

Generally, the public accepts the need for parking enforcement. The threat of a fine for those who overstay their allotted time helps to make sure that limited parking spaces are available to all who want to shop or do business in a commercial district. However, in many cities, like Los Angeles where parking fines have been raised five times in recent years and even those who park at broken meters are ticketed, the goal is revenue.

The public also tends to support fines for those whose driving puts others in danger as well as themselves. An expensive ticket for those who run a red light is intended to serve as a deterrent to those who might otherwise ignore traffic regulations. However, this system, too, can be manipulated so that driver safety takes a backseat to the primary goal, which is squeezing more money from the public.

Most motorists are familiar with red light cameras. A number of city councils, attracted by the potential of additional revenue, have approved these cameras using the argument that they improve traffic safety. The courts have called the legitimacy of this enforcement technique into question and, in some cases, the companies providing the service – they receive a portion of the revenue raised — have sought to withdraw the cameras, saying there is just not enough income for them to be profitable.

AB 666, which has been nicknamed the “Devil’s Bill” seeks to solve problems for both the revenue seeking cities and the companies that provide the cameras — the latter should not come as a great surprise since the legislation is said to be written with the assistance of two of the primary providers. Authored by Fremont Democrat Bob Wieckowski, AB 666 would change the law so that an accused violator would no longer have the right to request a trial. As things are now, a motorist, who lent their car to a friend, could show in court that the photo taken by the camera was not of them, and be found not guilty.

AB 666 would also allow the use of photo enforcement for other vehicle violations.

The Devil’s Bill would streamline the process by making a camera observed violation akin to a parking ticket; if the car did it, the owner is guilty, no matter who was driving. The owner could request an administrative hearing, but only after paying a fee, and the standard of guilt would be “preponderance of the evidence” rather than “beyond a reasonable doubt,” as required by current law. The administrator conducting the hearing would be someone selected by the city who has received 20 hours of training. A motorist could go to court after losing at a hearing, but the judge would be limited to deciding if the city was “fair” in making its determination of guilt

At the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, we are not sympathetic to scofflaws. However, when a ticketing system is being mechanized so as to catch both the guilty and innocent for the purpose of raising revenue, we draw the line. When fines that were intended as an enforcement mechanism are loosely applied as under AB 666, then there can be no question that these charges against possible innocent drivers are, in fact, a tax.

And what if the Devil’s Bill is approved and the revenues fail to meet expectations? Is it far-fetched to suggest that officials in some communities might shorten the length of amber lights to create more red light violators? And with shorter amber lights, will we see a spate of rear-end collisions as motorists slam on their brakes in fear of being caught by a red light camera?

In many situations, technology can be a boon to modern life. However, when it is used, as under AB 666, the Devil’s Bill, just to wring more money from motorists by denying their right to a defense, it makes the traditional motorcycle cop hiding behind a billboard at an intersection look like a more attractive option.

 

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.