Frank Viggiano of Palo Alto was recently slapped with a $490 fine when a red-light camera caught him turning right at a red light from El Camino Real onto Ravenswood Avenue in Menlo Park.
He and his wife had been driving their daughter home to her Menlo Park apartment around 9 or 10 p.m., he said an email to the Menlo Park City Council. At that time, he said, there was very little traffic and no pedestrians or bicycles around.
"While I support the need to enforce traffic rules, and even agree that such a system (referring to the red-light cameras) can be a very effective way to do it, I think that the $490 fine is far more than the amount necessary to act as a deterrent. Half that amount would already be quite painful and serve as a lasting reminder to be more careful," he said.
Mr. Viggiano may just get his wish.
California Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo County, has introduced a bill that would reduce the fines drivers pay if they get caught turning right at a red light without first coming to a complete stop.
Senate Bill 493 would reduce the base fine to $35, down from the $100 current fine.
The base fine is only a part of the total amount one pays with a moving-violation ticket, but it determines the cost of other fees that must be paid to the state and county.
Currently, a ticket with a $100 base fine actually means the driver would pay about $540 in fees, including traffic school costs, and about $490 without traffic school. Reducing the base fine to $35 would mean the total fees collected would be about $290 with traffic school, or $240 without – roughly half of the current cost.
Turning right on a red light without first coming to a complete stop would still be illegal and would add a point to a driver's record, Sen. Hill's office said.
Sen. Hill said in an interview that the fines for red-light traffic violations were hiked in 1997, but the intention then wasn't for right-on-red violations to have the same penalty as more dangerous offenses such as driving straight through, or turning left, on a red light.
Other moving violations that carry a $100 base fine are driving more than 25 miles per hour over the speed limit, and failing to yield to an emergency vehicle. The author of the 1997 bill later said raising the penalties for right-on-red violations was a mistake, Sen. Hill's office said.
"The fine doesn't fit the crime," he said. In recent years, the state senator has been contacted by constituents more than 50 times about the costly fines, his office said.
Exacting hefty fines for right-on-red traffic violations should not be a revenue generator, Sen Hill said. "I believe it has turned into one."
Cities with red-light cameras, such as Menlo Park and San Mateo, are generating revenue from these citations, he said.
In 2013 in Menlo Park, he said, Redflex, the company that is contracted to operate the city's red-light photo enforcement program, captured data that resulted in the police department issuing fines for red-light violations that added up to $1.3 million. Fine and fee revenues are split into state, county and local funds. That year, there were a total of 2,802 red light-violations reported in Menlo Park, and 395, or about 14 percent, came from right-on-red violations, according to Redflex data obtained from Sen. Hill's office.
Reducing the base fine could result in an annual loss of about $7.5 million to various state funds, a legislative analysis of the bill reports.
This is the fourth time Sen. Hill has tried to pass the bill. In 2010, the bill was vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who said it would send the wrong message regarding the state's tolerance for these types of offenses, according to a legislative analysis of the bill. Sen. Hill tried again twice last year to pass it.
This year, he said, he is optimistic it will pass.