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Fine hiked to $381 for a rolling right turn

L.A. more than doubles the penalty for failing to stop at a red light in intersections scanned by cameras.

August 16, 2008|Rich Connell | Times Staff Writer

Fines for most red light camera tickets in the city of Los Angeles more than doubled to nearly $400 under a newly ordered change, The Times has learned.

The change, which takes effect immediately, will affect thousands of motorists each year who make rolling right turns against red lights -- dubbed "California stops" by police -- at 32 camera-equipped intersections. About eight in 10 camera tickets in the city are for those violations, officials have said.

For years, Los Angeles was the only city in the county that cited rolling right turns under a state Vehicle Code section that carried a $159 penalty. Other agencies put those violations in the same category as running straight through a red light and wrote tickets with a state-established $381 fine.

Part of the Los Angeles Police Department's rationale for writing the less costly tickets was that slower, rolling right turns were not as dangerous, a department official told The Times earlier this year.

But after a lengthy legal review, officials concluded that the practice used by other cities was correct and that Los Angeles should do the same.

Lt. John Romero, a police spokesman, said late Friday that the new procedure affects officers issuing tickets as well as red light cameras and that it was needed to make enforcement consistent.

Raising money for the cash-strapped city was not part of the motivation, he said.

"This was a recommendation a year ago, before we were in this fiscal crisis," he said. "It just takes a long time to get that city attorney opinion. It's the correct section to cite."

"We do not calculate revenue," he said. "This is a traffic safety program."

Official estimates were not immediately available, but it appears the change could generate as much as an additional $2 million a year, based on past ticket patterns. The city issued about 30,000 camera tickets last year.

Though such areas as Culver City have reaped sizable profits from photo enforcement, Los Angeles' program has struggled to break even. It appeared the city might never recover some $2 million in construction costs and past deficits, city analysts recently told The Times.

That could change.

The city's share of revenue from most of its camera tickets will now jump from about $58 to roughly $150. The rest goes to state and county agencies.

Using cameras to catch rolling right turns has been a point of contention, even among some traffic engineers and law enforcement officers.

A primary selling point of red light cameras has been reducing potentially deadly broadside collisions. Some cities with red light cameras opt not to focus on right turns, saying they tend to cause fewer and less serious accidents.

However, a Times review earlier this year found that in Los Angeles and at least a half dozen other cities in the county, right turn violations were driving the majority of photo tickets and revenue.

The addition of right turn enforcement by the city's red light cameras two years ago was what led to officials noticing the discrepancy between officer-issued tickets and camera-issued tickets.

The city did not cite right turns with a previous camera system, Romero said.

But with a new vendor, Nestor Traffic Systems, and upgraded technology, tickets were added for right turns, he said. Officials noticed some LAPD officers writing up similar right turn violations under different state code sections, which carried different fines.

Initially, Romero said, the city attorney's office said using the section with the lower fine appeared to be permissible. But a recent, more detailed formal opinion concluded that the section on basic red light running, which carries the $381 fine, should be cited.

Those tickets have already begun to be issued and should start arriving in the mail any day, he said.

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rich.connell@latimes.com

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