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Speed ​​cameras: California’s response to the increase in traffic deaths?

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Trina Newman-Townsend’s daughters got into her Ford Flex after delivering gifts, turkeys and hams to a Los Angeles shelter. It was Christmas Eve, and the recently married 62-year-old pastor — mother of two, adoptive mother of five and grandmother of 11 — had a pajama gift exchange to attend later that night.

A speeding driver struck Newman-Townsend at 3:23 p.m. as she walked to open her car door. The impact was so powerful that she was partially dismembered. Four of his adopted children were waiting in the car.

She was pronounced dead at the scene..

Her husband, Curtis Townsend Sr., was down the street from their home, cooking dinner. He rushed towards her but it was too late. He lay down next to her lifeless body.

Darlene Smith, friend of Trina Newman-Townsend, retired minister, mother and grandmother, stands next to a mural honoring her sister near where she was killed by a driver for speeding in South Central.

(Jason Armond/Los Angeles Times)

Distraught and wanting justice for her friend, Darlene Smith — who considered Newman-Townsend her sister — became one of dozens of traffic safety advocates who pushed state lawmakers to pass a speed camera pilot program.

On Friday, Governor Gavin Newsom signed the law, allowing the cameras in Los Angeles, San Jose, Oakland, Glendale, Long Beach and San Francisco. This is the first time California has allowed speed cameras, and it follows more than half a dozen attempts to pass similar legislation.

“It means everything to me. At least we’ll have something that will hold people accountable,” Smith said.

The bill, primarily authored by Rep. Laura Friedman (D-Burbank), will allow cities to install cameras around schools, serious injury networks – the streets with the highest injury and death rates – and areas known as street racing corridors, as part of a five-year pilot program.

Under the law, the cameras will issue warnings for the first two months, then on the first offense for driving 11 to 25 km/h above the speed limit. The legislation also caps the number of cameras at 125 in more populated cities like Los Angeles.

The law comes amid an alarming rise in traffic deaths, as officials and advocates debate the role of police in road safety.

Supporters say the cameras differ from the unsuccessful red light program that was abandoned in Los Angeles. These devices documented when drivers entered the intersection on a red light, but fines often went unpaid and their effectiveness was questioned. Unlike red light cameras, speed camera violations carry no criminal penalties and do not add points to a state Department of Motor Vehicles driver’s license.

“The bill is about saving lives and dealing with those who drive at reckless speeds,” said Damian Kevitt, executive director of Streets Are for Everyone, a Los Angeles advocacy group that places white-painted tires on along roads where cyclists and pedestrians. Was killed.

He said the cameras would be an effective way to enforce the law without increasing driver interactions with patrol officers.

“Law enforcement has become a dirty word if you include the police,” he said.

The number of pedestrian deaths across the country is at its highest level in 41 years. In California, about 1,100 people died last year after being struck by vehicles. Speed ​​is a factor in about a third of all fatal crashes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

But some privacy advocates worry the measure will increase surveillance — and that speeding tickets could place a heavy burden on the most economically vulnerable communities.

“Automated enforcement mechanisms often disproportionately constrain drivers from communities of color and communities experiencing poverty,” Becca Cramer-Mowder, legislative advocate at ACLU California Action, told lawmakers earlier this year.

She said cities should focus on road safety with measures such as roundabouts or speed bumps instead of issuing tickets to people who can least afford them.

The law allows cities to fine drivers $50 for speeding 11 to 15 mph over the limit. The fee becomes progressively higher after that, rising to $500 for speeds above 100 mph.

Under the law, cities and transit agencies would manage the program, not the police. This would require fines to be reduced by 80% for those with incomes below the poverty line, and by 50% for those earning up to 250% above the poverty line. It would also allow people to do community service instead of paying.

Opponents fear these measures are not enough to protect people living in disadvantaged communities.

“Not only can you get multiple tickets, but the people who will be disproportionately affected are those who live in historically disinvested neighborhoods,” said James Burch, deputy director of the Anti-Police Terror Project, an Oakland group which seeks to end violence. excessive police surveillance. “This is not what Oakland and cities across the state are asking for.”

Ticket revenue should be spent on the program and additional traffic calming measures – and nothing else.

Smith, who grew up with Newman-Townsend in South Los Angeles during the height of gang violence, said she now worries more about cars than guns in the neighborhood.

“Cars are the weapons now,” she said as she stood in front of a mural depicting her friend. “Too many families are torn apart. »

Callie Harvey, daughter of Trina Newman.

Callie Harvey, daughter of Trina Newman-Townsend, a retired minister, mother and grandmother who was killed by a speeding driver in South Central, stands at the intersection of Broadway and 88th Street, where the hit-and-run took place on December 27.

(Jason Armond/Los Angeles Times)

On the day of the accident, Newman-Townsend’s daughter Callie Harvey, 37, was planning to meet a cousin when she learned her mother had been hit by a car. She rushed to the scene.

“I pulled over across the street and got out of the car,” she said. The crowd looked shocked. A man tried to stop her as she walked towards the scene.

“He told me you don’t want to go, and I lost it because I looked past him and saw the sheet,” she said. “That day I lost a part of myself.”

A memorial for Trina Newman-Townsend, 62, who was struck and killed by a driver.

A memorial for Trina Newman-Townsend, 62, who was struck and killed by a driver in the 8800 block of Broadway in Los Angeles on December 27.

(Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times)

Newman-Townsend was so well-loved that people still come to leave candles or flowers nearly a year after the accident, said a man who works nearby.

The stretch of South Broadway near 88th Street where Newman-Townsend died is part of the high-injury system, where a disproportionate number of injury and fatal crashes occur. In recent years, South Los Angeles has led the city in traffic deaths. And studies show that across the country, black and Latino residents die at higher mortality rates than whites in traffic accidents.

“These accidents and collisions are happening in our community and we need to recognize that we need to stop. We drive too fast, don’t pay attention, get distracted and just drive for ourselves,” Smith said. “It’s killing us. I drive with tears in my eyes because I miss her.

Earlier last year, a few blocks south of 92nd Street, a 56-year-old man was struck by a hit-and-run driver while returning to his car after stopping at a store .

Some days, officers in the LAPD’s Southern Traffic Division run from one death to the next, Detective Ryan Moreno said. Last year, 100 people were killed in traffic accidents in this division, which includes much of South Los Angeles and San Pedro. This represents about a third of the total deaths in the city. Speed ​​is the main factor in fatal crashes, he said.

“When you double or triple the speed limit, you turn your car into a weapon,” Moreno said. More and more drivers involved in these accidents are being arrested by officers for reckless driving, manslaughter and manslaughter.

“This year alone, two people have been killed on 109th and Broadway,” Moreno said. “We are on track to surpass last year’s number of traffic fatalities.”

Over a 10-year period, 17 people were killed along the stretch of Broadway between Slauson Avenue and 104th Street, according to state data reviewed by The Times.

“The faster you drive when an accident happens, the more likely you are to injure or kill someone,” said David Zuby, a researcher at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Speed ​​cameras slow drivers down, he said.

A 2016 study of speed cameras in Montgomery County, Maryland, by a nonprofit research group, found that the devices reduced the likelihood of a crash resulting in death or serious injury by 19 percent and reduced speeding by 10 mph or more by 62 percent.

For years, states resisted the use of speed cameras, even as other developed countries around the world adopted them and saw traffic deaths decline. In the United Kingdom, Germany and France, there are numerous speed cameras.

“It’s pretty clear that other countries are doing a better job than we are at reducing traffic fatalities, and part of the reason for that is the more widespread use of speed cameras,” Zuby said.

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