September 15, 2023
The Honorable Gavin Newsom
1020 O Street, Suite 9000
Sacramento, California 95814
Re: AB 645 Request for Veto
Dear Governor Newsom:
American Civil Liberties Union California Action, Anti Police-Terror Project, Black Lives Matter CA, California Teamsters Public Affairs Council, Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Human Rights Watch, National Motorists Association, Oakland Privacy, Oakland Rising, Restore Oakland, Inc., Safer Streets L.A., and Youth Together respectfully request that you veto AB 645, which would cost California tens of millions while putting marginalized communities needlessly at risk. While we appreciate the author’s worthy intention to reduce traffic fatalities caused by speeding, we are concerned about the approach AB 645 takes to solving the problem, which raises fundamental privacy, due process, equal protection, and equity concerns while also costing significant money to run. For more about the non-fiscal problems with AB 645, please see the attached supplemental information. It is also worth noting that while national pedestrian deaths are at a 41-year high, California’s are down twenty percent.
AB 645 would impose a serious burden on California taxpayers by more than doubling the number of traffic infractions issued across the state. Evidence from similar programs in other jurisdictions suggest that automatic speed cameras issue substantial numbers of tickets. In 2021, Chicago issued 1.03 automatic speed tickets per person. In the first half of fiscal year 2022, Washington, D.C. issued almost 1 ticket per person, while New York City – which only allowed speed cameras in school zones– issued 0.68 tickets per person. Using a conservative estimate of 0.75 tickets per person, AB 645 would result in over 5 million additional tickets per year across the pilot cities, which have a combined population of 6.67 million people. In Fiscal Year 2021-2022, 2.5 million traffic infractions were issued in all of California,  meaning that AB 645 could result in double the number of annual traffic tickets issued for the entire state in just six cities and one county.
This increase in speeding tickets would pose a serious threat to the superior court system, which is still digging out of pandemic-related backlogs. In FY 2021-2022, 7.6 percent of traffic infractions were resolved by the court, meaning that superior courts would need to handle nearly 400,000 AB 645-related cases every year should the same percentage of AB 645 tickets be challenged. While AB 645 includes a $25 fee for filing an appeal to the superior court, that filing fee is unlikely to cover the costs incurred by the court for the case. Additionally, the significant increase in the court’s caseload could not only cost millions but could also increase case delays further, depriving Californians of their right to a speedy trial and worsening California’s court backlog.
To address pedestrian safety issues, we need investment in capital improvements – especially in those areas least equitably served currently. Self-enforcing road design and traffic calming measures, such as speed bumps, roundabouts, and speed feedback signs, use physical infrastructure change and address how roads can be multi-modal to increase mobility for nondrivers, decrease car-based travel, reduce pollution and congestion on roads, and create more efficient physical spaces. Traffic calming measures can be relatively inexpensive in the short-term, do not require the steep ongoing costs that speed cameras do and provide a more equitable, structural solution.
There are other effective means of reducing speeding violations that do not raise the equal protection, due process, equity, and privacy problems inherent to AB 645’s camera-based speed traps. On behalf of foreseeably impacted communities, we respectfully request that you veto AB 645, which would cost taxpayers millions and wrongfully penalize marginalized communities.
ACLU California Action
Electronic Frontier Foundation
Safer Streets L.A.
Sheila A. Bates
Black Lives Matter CA
Human Rights Watch
Restore Oakland, Inc.
Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice
Anti Police-Terror Project
National Motorists Association
California Teamsters Public Affairs Council
James P. Massar
cc: The Honorable Laura Friedma
AB 645 has a number of racial and economic equity problems.
- AB 645 would cause wealth-extraction from marginalized communities who have been impacted by historically racist urban planning decisions.
Many of our most dangerous roads are in neighborhoods with higher numbers of non-white residents due to a lack of investment in roadway safety design in those communities and the role racism has historically played in infrastructure development in the US (referred to hereinafter as “marginalized communities”). As a result, the cameras will likely be placed primarily in these areas. For example, the spatial relationship between Oakland’s identified “High Injury Network'' and designated “communities of concern” makes clear that the implementation of automated speed enforcement along the High Injury Network would disproportionately impact marginalized communities, where the residents also have relatively lower incomes. AB 645 tickets will act as a wealth-extracting taxing mechanism to pay for safety enhancements that the government should have previously made. Residents in marginalized communities will have been harmed twice – first by previous under-investment, leading to higher fatality rates, and then by incurring hundreds of thousands of dollars in tickets to pay for correcting those racist decisions. The cost of losing hard-earned assets borne by communities already suffering from economic instability and wealth extraction are incalculable.
- AB 645 reverses California’s work to reduce the financial harms of mass ticketing.
While these speed trap programs may start small, they can soon balloon into ever expanding surveillance and ticketing apparatuses that result in millions more tickets being issued, further incentivizing the growth of these programs regardless of whether they result in fewer speed-related traffic collisions. New York, for example, started in 2012 with a pilot of 20 school speed zones, but planned in 2021 to install an average of 60 additional cameras per month to bring the city to a total of 2,220 cameras. In 2020, New York City issued 4,397,375 speed camera tickets, totaling nearly $220 million in tickets. In Chicago, speed cameras resulted in a ticket being issued every eleven seconds, totaling more speed camera tickets in 10 months than had been issued in the previous three years combined. The dramatic increase in ticketing that AB 645 threatens would be at odds with the recent reforms to California’s ticketing laws to reduce the well-documented economic harms caused by mass ticketing, particularly for communities of color.
The increased number of tickets issued through surveillance technology especially burden California’s residents earning low incomes, who have less money to spare for tickets and are more likely to be subject to additional consequences for nonpayment. While the amount of the fine for a violation is an annoyance to affluent drivers, it can be crippling to people with lower incomes, often initiating a cascade of consequences. While we appreciate the author’s attempts to mitigate the harmful effects on Californians earning low incomes, they are not sufficient to blunt the impact AB 645 will have on Californian residents who cannot bear the burden of increased ticketing and some of the attempts are problematic in themselves. For example, offering community service in lieu of paying the penalties has been likened to indentured servitude for people who are poor.
Multiple tickets could also be issued before the first ticket was ever received by the vehicle owner, who may routinely enter the area after the signs, which can be as far from the cameras as 500 feet. Additionally, the ticket would go to the vehicle owner, not the driver, so many people who own a vehicle driven by someone else would be on the hook for the ticket with no ability to shift the legal responsibility to the actual driver, short of engaging in the convoluted and potentially lengthy procedures laid out in the bill. Women of color, particularly Black and Latinx women, are especially likely to suffer under AB 645 because they tend to bear the brunt of the cost of citations, regardless of whether they incurred the citations.
- Surveillance systems with automated enforcement, like that which AB 645 would rely on, disproportionately impact marginalized communities.
In Chicago, for example, households in majority Black and Latinx ZIP codes were ticketed by surveillance enabled automated ticketing systems at two times the rate of white ZIP codes between 2015 and 2019, and majority Black ZIP codes were ticketed at three times the rate of white ZIP codes during the pandemic. According to ProPublica, “[t]he consequences have been especially punishing in Black neighborhoods, which have been hit with more than half a billion dollars in penalties over the last 15 years, contributing to thousands of vehicle impoundments, driver’s license suspensions and bankruptcies[.]” When ending Rochester’s red light camera program, the mayor noted that their automated ticketing through surveillance program “was a program that disproportionately affected the poorest of city residents” and was “counter to our efforts to reverse Rochester’s troubling rates of poverty.” A study of Cleveland’s speed camera program found that Black drivers received 61% of tickets despite making up only 38% of drivers. AB 645’s surveillance-enabled automated enforcement-based solutions will recreate these same problems currently facing disadvantaged communities across the country.
AB 645 tickets have numerous due process issues.
Tickets would be civil violations subject to adjudication in an administrative hearing prior to appeal to superior court, eliminating almost all rights currently afforded defendants when cases are heard as infractions in Superior Court, including the right to confront accusers and the right to discovery. Only the ticket, registration information, and photo evidence would be required to be presented as evidence, with no requirement to show that the required signage was in place or that the system was operating properly at the time of the alleged violation. The burden of proof would shift to the vehicle owner rather than the agency alleging a violation, and the standard of proof would be reduced from "beyond a reasonable doubt" to a yet to be established standard.
There are also due process concerns with automated enforcement of the code sections that would be subject AB 645 ticketing. While section 22351 of the Vehicle Code makes speeds in excess of the posted speed limit prima facie unlawful, it also allows that presumption to be rebutted by the defendant if they establish "by competent evidence that the speed in excess of said limits did not constitute a violation of the basic speed law at the time, place and under the conditions then existing." In other words, a person can rebut the unlawfulness of their speed by providing evidence that their speed was reasonable or prudent based on the weather, visibility, traffic, and the surface and width of the highway and that they did not endanger the safety of persons or property. However, if ticketed by a speed camera, the owner will receive the ticket days or weeks later and will have no memory of what the conditions were at the time, nor will the cameras capture enough of the conditions for the defendant to mount a fair defense. Under our current system, drivers who are issued a citation for violation of section 22350 can appear in court and the officer who issued the ticket would need to testify that the defendant’s speed not only exceeded the posted speed limit, but that it was also unsafe based on the conditions then existing. The driver could then rebut the officer’s opinion through cross examination or by providing other objective evidence that they collected at the time they were ticketed. Current law requires the state to prove that the speed limit was set correctly according to the vehicle code and the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. Where applicable, a valid speed survey must be presented. All of this must be testified to under oath and placed into evidence prior to the case proceeding. AB 645 would eliminate all these requirements, making the ticket itself prima facie evidence of the violation and explicitly not requiring that the person who issued the ticket appear for the hearing. Legal safeguards should not be dispensed with for the expediency of issuing large quantities of tickets through an automated system – they are requirements to ensure due process.
AB 645 may violate the equal protection clause.
AB 645 would create one speed enforcement scheme for drivers across the state cited by law enforcement officers at a higher ticket cost with stronger due process protections and another with lower tickets that are not subject to due process protections for vehicles in a subset of cities that are cited by surveillance cameras. The amount of a speeding citation should not depend upon which neighborhood a driver happens to be in, nor should the legal protections to ensure due process.
SB 645 raises privacy concerns that would also put at risk people coming to California for abortions and gender-affirming care.
Surveillance can be both less effective and far more costly to local agencies and to the community at large than initially imagined, leaving communities saddled with long-term bills for surveillance that do not make the community safer. Surveillance can also be easily misused, leading to the erosion of community trust and costly lawsuits as well as discouraging people from going about their daily lives and exercising their civil liberties.
Additionally, the data collected by speed cameras could be used to harm marginalized communities outside of California. As attacks on gender-affirming and reproductive care continue in other states, California continues to provide a safe haven for people seeking potentially life-saving treatments. However, out-of-state prosecutors may seek to weaponize speed camera data. Police agencies improperly shared automated license plate reader data with prosecutors in states where abortion has been outlawed despite such sharing being prohibited. Such misuse of speed camera data would undermine California’s goal of being a beacon of safety for marginalized communities. Not collecting the information in the first place is the only way to ensure this information is not improperly shared to assist with prosecuting people seeking reproductive and gender-affirming care.
Automated traffic enforcement systems, such as those authorized by this bill, also raise numerous privacy concerns. By encouraging the use of surveillance technologies, like automated license plate readers (ALPRs), for enforcement of speed limits, AB 645 subjects Californians to increased surveillance and perpetuates the false notion that this surveillance benefits the communities that are surveilled. The need for enforcement of speed limits does not warrant the creation of a new mechanism for government collection of large amounts of data on Californians.
There are better ways to address pedestrians safety issues.
To address pedestrian safety issues, we need investment in capital improvements – especially in those areas least equitably served currently. As Priya Sarathy Jones of the Fines and Fees Justice Center has noted:
“[r]elying on enforcement and financial penalties to solve issues that stem from street design cannot solve the epidemic of traffic fatalities. And even a simple traffic ticket can trap working families in a vicious cycle of poverty and punishment if they can’t afford to pay the stiff fines and fees that jurisdictions often impose. Design, on the other hand, is an upstream solution. When streets are designed with safety in mind, people intuitively drive more slowly, making them able to notice and process important signals from their environment, preventing dangerous behavior before it occurs, and focusing efforts on safer systems rather than individual behavior.
When streets are designed primarily to move as many cars as possible as fast as possible, and people are not provided the infrastructure they need to walk and bike safely, enforcement often punishes travelers for behaving logically…When a road looks and feels like a highway and is designed for 45 mph or more but has a speed limit of 35 mph or less, many drivers are not aware they are making a mistake—until it’s too late. The result of that is frequently issued citations, but not a change to overall driving behaviors.”
Traffic calming uses physical infrastructure changes and addresses how roads can be multi-modal to increase mobility for nondrivers, decrease car-based travel, reduce pollution and congestion on roads, and create more efficient physical spaces. Traffic calming measures can be relatively inexpensive in the short-term, do not require the steep ongoing costs that speed cameras do, can be more effective, and do not raise the numerous equity, privacy, due process, and equal protection concerns that speed cameras do.
We recognize that traffic calming measures cost money; however, AB 645 also has costs. Speed cameras are expensive to implement. For example, between fiscal year 2014 and 2019, New York City’s speed safety program cost just shy of $165 million, including an operating cost of $104 million. Other cities’ speed camera programs also cost millions annually to administer. Instead of cities and counties paying the bill, though, AB 645 transfers the burden to vulnerable Californians. Historically redlined neighborhoods have had fewer infrastructure investments than wealthier, whiter neighborhoods, so from an equity standpoint, some neighborhoods require more funds to catch up with neighborhoods that have had more consistent infrastructure investments. It does not make policy or fiscal sense to tax these neighborhoods through wealth-extracting mass ticketing to pay for the ticketing apparatus and raise the money for these improvements, which is what AB 645 effectively does. Instead, we should follow the lead of localities that incorporate these traffic calming costs into their budgets, such as Berkeley, San Bruno, and Oakland have done.
 Andriesen, Patrick and Josko, Jon, “Speed Cameras Issue More Tickets in 2021 than Chicago has Residents.” Illinois Policy.
 Todd Litman, Traffic Calming Benefits, Costs and Equity Impacts, Victoria Transport Policy Institute. (December 7, 1999).
 Norwood, Candice, “How Infrastructure Has Historically Promoted Inequality.” PBS.
 Alvarado, Alejo, “The Racial Equity Implications of Road Safety Enforcement in Oakland, CA.” Department of City and Regional Planning, University of California, Berkeley.
 We also note that in 2015, the Missouri Supreme Court struck down a red-light program because the camera did not record the driver of the vehicle, so ticket recipients who wanted to dispute the ticket had to shoulder the burden of proving whether they were driving at the time of the violation. While reducing what the cameras capture is better from a privacy standpoint, AB 645 may also be open to similar legal challenges. See, e.g. Speeding into the Future: The Pitfalls of Automated Traffic Enforcement
 Who Pays? The True Cost of Incarceration on Families, Ella Baker Center for Human Rights (2015).
 See, for example, Simone Browne, Dark Matters: On the Surveillance of Blackness (2015); Ruha Benjamin, Race After Technology (2019); Barton Gellman & Sam Adler-Bell, The Disparate Impact of Surveillance (December 21, 2017); Michele E. Gilman, The Class Differential in Privacy Law, 77 Brook. L. Rev. (2012); Scott Skinner-Thompson, Privacy at the Margins (2021); Virginia Eubanks, Automating Inequality (2018); John Gilliom, Overseers of the Poor: Surveillance, Resistance, and the Limits of Privacy (Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press, 2001); Khiara M. Bridges, The Poverty of Privacy Rights (Stanford University Press 2017); Sahar F. Aziz, Caught in a Preventive Dragnet: Selective Counterterrorism in a Post 9/11 America, 47 Gonz. L. Rev. 429 (2011). David J. Garrow, The FBI and Martin Luther King, Jr.: From “Solo” to Memphis (2015); Eric Avila, Popular Culture in the Age of White Flight: Fear and Fantasy in Suburban Los Angeles (2004).
Chicago’s Race Neutral Traffic Cameras Ticket Black and Latino Drivers the Most (Propublica, Emily Hopkins, Melissa Sanchez, 2022)
 “Civil Liberties Groups Demand California Police Stop Sharing Drivers’ Location Data with Police in Anti-Abortion States.” Electronic Frontiers Foundation.
 Priya Sarathy Jones, Traffic enforcement cannot do the job of better roadway design, Smart Growth America (July 12, 2022).
Todd Litman, Traffic Calming Benefits, Costs and Equity Impacts, Victoria Transport Policy Institute. (December 7, 1999).
 Automated Speed Enforcement Implementation: Survey Findings and Lessons Learned From Around the Country, City and County of San Francisco Office of the Controller – City Services Auditor (2015).