SACRAMENTO — On Monday, legislation to provide more flexibility on setting speed limits by Assemblymember Laura Friedman’s (D-Glendale) achieved its first major victory earning unanimous, bipartisan support in the Assembly Transportation Committee. The measure, Assembly Bill 43, incorporates the findings and recommendations relating to speed limits included in the California State Transportation Agency (CalSTA)’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,” said Assemblymember Friedman. “Over 42,000 Americans have lost their lives over the last year because of a traffic collision, 3,600 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.”
For years, California has based its speed limits using a decades-old process known as the 85th percentile. 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.
Under current law, speed limits are not set based on safety. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the National Association of City Transportation Safety Officials and California Transportation Agency have all concluded that we need to reform the way speed limits are set if we’re to seriously reduce to rising risks on our streets.
The faster a vehicle goes, the further the chances of survival in a car crash decreases, especially for vulnerable road users such as pedestrians, bicyclists, seniors and children. According to research conducted by AAA, a person struck by a vehicle going 32.5 mph has a 75% chance of surviving; the survival rate plummets to 50% if the vehicle is going only 8 mph faster. The survival rate is only 10% if the vehicle is traveling at 55 mph.
In response to these findings, Assemblymember 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 change the way we set speed limits. The task force releases findings in 2019, and the recommendations couldn’t be more timely.
According to NTSB, speeding is a factor in 31% of all traffic fatalities. Empty roads due to the COVID-19 lockdowns led to a significant increase in speeding, with a corresponding increase in fatalities. The National Safety Council found that while vehicle miles traveled dropped 13% in 2020, the mileage death rate went up 24%, the highest estimated year-over-year jump in 96 years.
If successful, AB 43 would require traffic surveyors to take into account the presence of vulnerable groups, including children, seniors, the unhoused, and people with disabilities when setting speed limits; permit cities to lower speed limits beyond the 85th percentile on streets with high injuries and fatalities; and provide for greater flexibility in setting school speed limits to protect children.
The measure has the support of the Southern California Association of Governments, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, the National Association of City Transportation Officials, and the Natural Resources Defense Council.
AB 43 will now move to the Assembly Appropriations Committee for a hearing in May.
Laura Friedman represents the 43rd Assembly District which encompasses the cities of Burbank, Glendale, and La Cañada Flintridge, as well as the communities of La Crescenta and Montrose, and the Los Angeles neighborhoods of Atwater Village, Beachwood Canyon, Los Feliz, East Hollywood, Franklin Hills, and Silver Lake.