First published in the Sept. 18 print issue of the Burbank Leader.
Legislation by Assemblymember Laura Friedman that would provide local governments with more flexibility in setting speed limits passed the Legislature last week with strong bipartisan support.
The measure, Assembly Bill 43, incorporates the findings and recommendations relating to speed limits included in the California State Transportation Agency’s Zero Traffics Fatalities Task Force Report on reforming the way California allows speed limits to be set.
“A year into the pandemic, we intimately understand what a public health crisis is, and how important it is to act fast,” Friedman, whose district includes Burbank, said in a statement. “Over 42,000 Americans have lost their lives over the last year because of a traffic collision, over 3,700 of which were in California. Over 1,000 of those deaths were California pedestrians and cyclists. That, too, is clearly a public health crisis and should be addressed with the same seriousness, speed and willingness to change.”
AB 43 was authored by a coalition of Democratic state representatives, including state Sen. Anthony Portantino, who also represents Burbank.
Currently, California traffic surveyors measure the speed of drivers and set the speed limit to reflect the speed at which 85% of drivers were driving. It has long been believed that this is the safest way to determine street speed, but the data and rising number of traffic-related injuries and deaths suggest otherwise, according to Friedman’s statement.
“This change to our speed setting laws will save lives,” Los Angeles Department of Transportation General Manager Seleta Reynolds said in the statement. “For too long, our laws have been indifferent to the suffering caused by dangerous speeds on our streets. I’m grateful for this action from the legislature, which gives cities the tools and flexibility to promote safe driving on our streets.”
The Burbank City Council has spoken in support of AB 43, seeing it as a potential solution to required increases of local speed limits as mandated by the 85th percentile process. Residents’ concerns regarding speeding have also recently been brought to the forefront following a deadly crash last month that authorities said was caused by racing vehicles striking an uninvolved car on Glenoaks Boulevard.
“Community safety is of the utmost importance to the Burbank City Council and that’s why we are in strong support of AB 43,” Burbank Mayor Bob Frutos said in a statement. “Giving cities greater flexibility to safely adjust speeds and create safer conditions reduces risks and saves lives.”
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a person struck by a vehicle going 20 mph has a 5% chance of dying. That number goes up to 40% for vehicles going 30 mph and 80% for vehicles going 40 mph.
In response to these findings, Friedman introduced AB 2363, which was signed into law in 2018. The measure required CalSTA to convene the Zero Traffic Fatalities Task Force, which would further investigate these issues and make recommendations to the Legislature on the reforms the state should make to improve road safety for all users. The task force releases findings in 2019 and included recommendations to reform speed limits and the 85th percentile.
If signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, AB 43 would allow cities to lower speed limits by 5 mph on high-injury streets, streets with high concentration of cyclists and in business districts where high numbers of pedestrians are likely to be present. It would also allow cities to stop having to raise speed limits because of “speed creep.”
Newsom has until Oct. 10 to sign the legislation into law.