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LA Is Raising Speed Limits In Order To Enforce Them (AKA Write More Tickets)

(Courtesy Los Angeles Department of Transportation)

Speed limits will be going up on more than 100 miles of Los Angeles streets in an effort to make roads safer. You read that right.

The L.A. City Council approved an ordinance Tuesday that directs speed limits to increase on about 102 miles of city streets. Roughly 12 miles of road will get decreased speed limits. The majority of changes boost speeds by 5 miles per hour (you can view the full list here.)

Maybe you're wondering why the city would raise speeds at the same time it's trying to reduce car crashes and deaths. How did we get here? It all comes down to a state law that city leaders and law enforcement say has interfered with their ability to punish speeders.

The Los Angeles Police Department has several tools to monitor car speeds. Police can pace a car to determine its speed, but that can be dangerous, so they prefer to use radar or laser.

But under a California law, using such equipment is only allowed on streets that have been surveyed by the city within the last 10 years. In 2016, about 80 percent of L.A. streets had not been checked in that time period, meaning police have been unable to issue speed tickets on many city roads.

The law was originally intended to protect drivers from arbitrary "speed traps," usually in rural areas where jurisdictions sometimes set arbitrarily low speed limits to ticket drivers and raise revenue.

"(It's) a necessary evil in order to enforce speed laws in the city of Los Angeles," City Councilman Mike Bonin told LAist Wednesday, calling the state law "the stupidest, most ludicrous, most problematic law" he's ever dealt with.

Bonin, who chairs the council's transportation committee, said nearly everyone on the council has expressed frustration over the law, explaining "a cruel catch-22" that uses a formula based on how fast people are driving to calculate speed limits. In effect, that allows lead-footed drivers to influence legal speeds.

"If people are speeding, you have to raise the speed limit," Bonin said. "It's absolutely nuts."

And higher speeds increase the likelihood of a collision turning deadly. So to get drivers to slow down, the city has to put the fear of a speeding ticket (or inconvenience) back into motorists, hoping that will lead to better driving and safer streets.

Simple as that.

Traffic enforcement is one of the key components of Vision Zero, an international initiative the city joined in 2015 that aims to eliminate traffic fatalities, in large part by addressing the most dangerous driving behavior: speeding.

After yesterday's action, Bonin said 97.5 percent of streets now have enforceable speed limits. Mayor Garcetti still needs to sign the ordinance, which should take effect in the first few weeks of 2019.

But enforcement won't begin right away. First city workers will have to change out more than 450 speed limit signs, according to a Los Angeles Department of Transportation spokesman. That process is expected to take two or three months.

KPCC/LAist mobility reporter Meghan McCarty Carino contributed to this story. Some of her reporting was previously published on KPCC.org.

UPDATES:

Dec. 13, 7:40 a.m.: This article was updated with more information from a Los Angeles Department of Transportation spokesperson.

This article was originally published at 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 12.


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