Bill Would Let Cities Lower Speed Limits on Dangerous Streets

Traffic fatalities increased 24% last year — an 8% increase over 2019. The spike in traffic fatality rates is the highest estimated year-over-year increase in 96 years, according to the National Safety Council.

One Southern California lawmaker is doing her part to change that. Sen. Laura Friedman (D-Glendale) introduced AB 43 in December. The bill, which moved to the Senate floor last week, would allow cities to reduce speed limits by 5 miles per hour below traffic engineer recommendations on dangerous streets and those used by pedestrians and bicyclists.

Currently, cities’ hands are tied by something known as the 85th percentile rule. It requires engineers to round speed limits to the nearest 5 mph of the 85th percentile of free flowing traffic. In other words, the speed limit should be 15% of what drivers exceed, rounded to the nearest interval of 5 mph. That means if the speed limit is 35 mph but 15% of drivers go 42 mph or more, the speed limit must be raised to 40 mph. The rule has led to increased speed limits on streets that already have a high rate of collisions and fatalities.

AB 43 would give local governments more flexibility to adjust speed limits based on risk factors. LA Councilman Paul Koretz called it a matter of common sense. He sponsored a resolution supporting AB 43 which was passed unanimously by the city council last month.

In addition to letting cities peg speed limits below engineer recommendations, AB 43 allows cities to set limits of 20-25 mph in business districts; allows cops to use radar guns to enforce speed limits in certain zones; expands the number of streets eligible for school zone speeds; and extends the period of time, from 10 to 14 years, that an engineering and traffic survey justifies a speed if a traffic engineer evaluates that section of the street and determines that no significant changes in roadway conditions have occurred.

Opponents of AB 43 have raised concerns that speed limit enforcement would disproportionately affect drivers of color. While that's a legitimate concern, statistics show low-income earners and people of color are disproportionately affected by speeding fatalities as well.


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