BILL ANALYSIS                                                                                                                                                                                                    

                                                                  AB 539
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          Date of Hearing:   April 11, 2011

                               Bonnie Lowenthal, Chair
                    AB 539 (Williams) - As Amended:  April 5, 2011
          SUBJECT  :  Vehicles: speeding: school zones: penalties.  

           SUMMARY  :  Doubles fines for speed limit violations in school 
          zones under specified conditions.  Specifically,  this bill  :  

          1)Authorizes a local authority to adopt, by ordinance or 
            resolution, double of fines for persons convicted of speeding 
            in a school zone, as defined, as long as certain conditions 
            are met, including:  

             a)   Children are present at the time the offense is 

             b)   Signs are erected in the school zone that provide 
               notification to drivers that double fines apply; and,

             c)   The highway on which the offense occurs in not signed at 
               less than 25 miles per hour, as specified.

          1)Specifies that doubling of the base fine shall not result in 
            the increase of any associated and additional penalties, 
            fines, fees, or assessments.  

          2)Specifies that a court shall not reduce the penalties, as 

           EXISTING LAW:   

          1)Sets forth provisions governing speed limits and includes 
            fines for speeding violations.  

          2)Allows local authorities to reduce the prima facie speed limit 
            of 25 mph in a school zone to 20 mph or 15 mph, under certain, 
            limited, conditions.  

          3)Allows for doubling of fines for speed limit violations in 
            highway construction or maintenance zones, under certain 


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           FISCAL EFFECT  :  Unknown

           COMMENTS  :  Existing law generally provides for a prima facie 
          speed limit of 25 mph in school zones when children are present 
          AB 321 (Nava) Chapter 384, Statutes of 2007, allows a local 
          authority, by ordinance, to determine and declare a school zone 
          speed limit of 15 mph or 20 mph, under certain circumstances.  
          To declare a 15 mph or 20 mph school zone speed limit, the local 
          jurisdiction must conduct engineering and traffic surveys to 
          show that the 25 mph speed limit is more than is reasonable or 
          safe.  Also, lowering the speed limit to 15 mph or 20 mph can 
          only be done on a highway with a posted speed limit of 30 mph or 

          AB 321 limited conditions under which the speed limit can be 
          reduced to avoid creating a significant variation in speed along 
          the route since traffic studies show that an immediate and 
          significant drop in speeds can exacerbate traffic tie ups and 
          result in increased accidents and associated safety issues.  For 
          example, the abrupt slowing of vehicles speeds from 30 mph or 
          higher to 15 mph to 20 mph could increase the number of rear-end 
          collisions or cars swerving out to avoid rear-end collisions 
          which could further jeopardize bicyclists and pedestrians.  

          According to the author, speeding remains a problem in school 
          zones where local jurisdictions are unable to effectively reduce 
          the speed limit to 15mph or 20 mph and the resources to maintain 
          a serious enforcement presence to curb speeding in those school 
          zones are limited.  The author notes that in Goleta alone, at 
          least four schools were unable to lower the speed limit to 15 
          mph or 20 mph and, as a result, chronic and excessive speeding 
          in these school zones continues.  The author cites surveys that 
          show, at times when children are present, average speeds of 10 
          mph to 20 mph over the posted 25 mph speed limit are the norm.  
          The author contends that by increasing fines, speeding in school 
          zones would be reduced.  

          Fines are generally set to be commensurate with the crime.  The 
          Legislature has, however, authorized doubling of fines under 
          certain circumstances.  For example, fines are doubled in 
          highway construction and maintenance areas (AB 708, Epple, 
          Chapter 674, Statutes of 1993), but only during times when 
          traffic is regulated or restricted through or around the area or 
          when highway construction or maintenance work is actually being 


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          performed and traffic controls or warning signs are erected to 
          notify motorists of construction or maintenance workers in the 

          The Judicial Council annually adopts a uniform traffic penalty 
          schedule which is applicable to all non-parking infractions 
          specified in the Vehicle Code.  In establishing the uniform 
          penalty schedule, the Judicial Council classifies offenses into 
          four or fewer penalty categories, according to the severity of 
          the offense, so as to permit convenient notice and payment of 
          the scheduled penalty.  

          Under current law, the base fine for speeding in a school zone 
          is set in the uniform penalty schedule as $35 for traveling 1 
          mph to 15 mph over the speed limit ($154 total fine with fees 
          and court costs), $70 for traveling 16 mph to 25 mph over the 
          speed limit ($280 total fine with fees and court costs), and 
          $100 for traveling 26 mph or more over the speed limit ($400 
          total fine with fees and court costs).  

          This bill would authorize a local jurisdiction to the double 
          base fines for speeding in school zones posted at 25 mph when 
          children are present and so long as the double fine zones are so 
          that motorists are notified that double fines would apply.  

           Committee concerns  :  The author's intent, to make conditions 
          safer for children in school zones by slowing traffic, is 
          certainly laudable.  Nonetheless, this bill raises a number of 
          concerns such as the following:  

          This bill relies on the presupposition that the threat of 
          increased fines will sufficiently influence driver behavior and 
          infers that drivers are speeding in school zones because current 
          fines are insufficient to influence driver behavior.  It is 
          generally accepted in the field of traffic engineering, however, 
          that effective speed management combines engineering, 
          enforcement, and education strategies to reduce speed-related 
          accidents.  This bill fails to address any of these three 
          strategies.  For example, consider the following:

             a)   Engineering:  Drivers generally drive at the speed which 
               they believe is prudent and safe.  Engineering solutions 
               such as flashing yellow lights, warning signs, planted 
               medians, or even curb bulb-outs are effectively used to 
               affect the driver's perception of what is a safe and 


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               prudent speed.  The committee was unable to ascertain 
               whether or not any of these solutions have been attempted 
               to resolve the problem of speeding through school zones in 
               Goleta;  and,  

             b)   Enforcement:  The author states that this bill is 
               necessary, in part, because the resources to maintain a 
               serious enforcement presence to curb speeding in school 
               zones are limited.  Higher penalties are unlikely to curb 
               speeding if there is no law enforcement presence to issue 

           Previous Legislation  :  AB 321 (Nava), Chapter 384, Statutes of 
          2007, authorized local governments, under certain conditions, to 
          extend school safety zones from 500 feet to 1,000 feet and 
          authorized the reduction of speed limits from 25 mph to 15 mph 
          when approaching at a distance of 500 feet and passing a school. 

          SB 1227 (Denham) of 2006, would have allowed, until January 1, 
          2010, a prima facie speed limit of 15 miles per hour for 
          specified school zones in Merced and Monterey counties.  That 
          bill would have also required local authorities in these 
          counties to report to the California Highway Patrol on the 
          collisions, citations, average vehicle speed, speed limits, and 
          use of specified "children are present" signs.  SB 1227 was held 
          under submission in the Senate Committee on Appropriations.  

          AB 1886 (Jackson) Chapter 590, Statutes of 2001, allowed for the 
          increase of fines for traffic violations in school zones within 
          Alameda, Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties.  That bill sunset 
          on January 1, 2007.  

          AB 708 (Epple) Chapter 674, Statutes of 1993, provided that in 
          highway construction and maintenance areas, in specified 
          misdemeanor cases, fines shall be double the amount otherwise 
          prescribed, and, in the case of an infraction, the fine shall be 
          one category higher than the penalty otherwise prescribed by the 
          uniform traffic penalty schedule.  

           Double referral  :  This bill has also been referred to the 
          Committee on Public Safety.  



                                                                  AB 539
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          California State PTA
          California State Sheriffs' Association 
          California WALKS
          City of Goleta
          Peace Officers Research Association of California
          California Association of School Business Officials 

          AAA Clubs
          California Teamsters Public Affairs Council

          Analysis Prepared by  :   Victoria Alvarez / TRANS. / (916) 319-