San Diego shortens 'grace period' for red-light cameras


12:41 p.m. July 18, 2006

SAN DIEGO – The City Council voted Tuesday to reduce the grace period for red-light cameras at San Diego intersections.

The panel voted 6-2 to shorten the grace period from half a second to one tenth of a second to help prevent collisions at intersections resulting from drivers running red lights.

Councilmen Jim Madaffer and Brian Maienschein cast the dissenting votes.

According to Deborah Van Wanseele, deputy director of engineering and capital projects, 65 percent of the tickets that could have been issued for running red lights were not because of the grace period.

“Our statistics show that there is a significant number of motorists running the red light during the grace period, causing risk to other motorists,” she told the council.

Wanseele testified that other jurisdictions in San Diego County that have red-light camera programs, but don't have a grace period, have been “more effective” at reducing violations and accidents.

“The result of the grace period is that we are not educating 65 percent of those who run red lights that have engaged in what we consider to be a very potentially dangerous behavior,” Wanseele said.

According to a report presented to the council, a 17 percent reduction in accidents has been measured at the eight city intersections now monitored by cameras, compared to 22 percent to 70 percent for other municipalities.

Madaffer argued the grace period is needed to “enhance credibility” with the public about the integrity of the city's red-light camera program.

“The fact of the matter is there is a grace period because technically and electronically, at times, these things might not always work,” Madaffer said. “They are not always foolproof.”

The city's red-light camera program was first initiated in 1998, but halted in 2001 after lawsuits were brought over the way the program was run. The city restarted the program in 2003.

Eliminating the grace period will generate the city $191,000 annually in added revenue, city staff told the council. The program is slated to generate $1.52 million in total revenues in fiscal year 2007.

Councilwoman Toni Atkins said eliminating the grace period was about improving public safety, not money.

“We shouldn't be making the rules flexible to the point you get another inch, another inch, another inch,” she said. “I really believe that we have to focus on the public safety aspect of this program.”

The council also voted to require city staff to seek its approval in advance of the installation of any new red-light cameras. Seven cameras are slated to be activated at intersections around the city next year.

City staffers were also asked to return in one year with a report on the effectiveness of eliminating the grace period.