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Bellflower/Willow Photo Red Cam Nighttime Lights On For Software Tests; Could Be Operational Soon Pending Final Test Results

ELB traffic acc. 1(February 21, 2002) -- Nighttime spotlights, part of the Photo Red Cam traffic enforcement apparatus at Bellflower Blvd. and Willow St., are on at night for testing of the system's software. Soon, they could be made operational at night, capturing red light runners on video.

LBPD Det. Doug Robbins told the spotlights are 750 watts each but operated at 30% brightness. The picture above was not taken from within a moving vehicle. We took it while walking in the crosswalk across Bellflower Blvd. on Willow St., looking northward, and into the spotlight illuminating the left traffic lane. The left spotlight appears disproportionately bright, with flaring, due in part (we believe) to our orientation and difficult photographic conditions; the spotlights are actually of equal brightness.

ELB traffic acc. 1To provide some context, we took a picture of the spotlight's "footprints" as they appeared in the Bellflower Blvd. traffic lanes. They can be seen as lighter, somewhat oval shaped illuminated areas in traffic lanes.

Detective Doug Robbins of LBPD's traffic section told the spotlights are currently on steadily at night for software testing. However, once operational, the spotlights will only come on when a driver runs a red light at night, illuminating the vehicle and capturing the image on video.

As first reported in December, LBPD put nighttime operations on hold pending field measurements to ensure to LBPD's satisfaction that the system's nighttime spotlights meet standards in a CA Vehicle Code statute (details below).

Det. Robbins required field measurements to ensure to his satisfaction that the system's nighttime light beams meet standards in CA Vehicle Code 21466.5 (text below) protecting drivers from interfering lights.

That said, whatever the actual foot candle level, we certainly noticed the lights while we were driving.

Det. Robbins indicated that preliminary measurement results he's seen indicate the spotlights do in fact comply the statute's requirements, and this is expected to be confirmed by final test results.

Det. Robbins also advised that a new Photo Red Cam is tentatively set to begin operations in NLB at Cherry Avenue and Artesia Blvd. on or about February 25. Once operational, photo enforced citations will issue against red light runners at Cherry/Artesia without any grace period.

Daytime Photo Red Cam enforcement continues at Bellflower Blvd./Willow St. (pictured above) and 7th St/Redondo Ave..

Running a red light at a photo enforced intersection could bring a hefty $271 dollar fine and a nasty DMV point potentially impacting one's insurance costs. The DMV point may be removed for eligible drivers by attending traffic school, but the fine cannot be removed.

Det. Robbins offered a tip for drivers fearful of travelling through the photo enforced intersections.

"Just slow down and make sure you're going below the speed limit. You really should be able to stop if you're not over the speed limit. Seriously, just slow down."

Det. Robbins noted that the Bellflower/Willow intersection had LB's highest number of accidents in 1998. Data show side impact intersection collisions (which can result from running a red light) can be among the most deadly.

Det. Robbins invited anyone receiving a "photo red cam" citation to call him and make an appointment if they wished to view the actual video -- yes, real in motion video -- of the event involving them as it occurred. (Det. Robbins can be reached at 570-6554.)

CA Vehicle Code section 21466.5 provides in pertinent part:

No person shall place or maintain or display, upon or in view of any highway, any light of any color of such brilliance as to impair the vision of drivers upon the highway. A light source shall be considered vision impairing when its brilliance exceeds the values listed below.

The brightness reading of an objectionable light source shall be measured with a 11/2-degree photoelectric brightness meter placed at the driver's point of view. The maximum measured brightness of the light source within 10 degrees from the driver's normal line of sight shall not be more than 1,000 times the minimum measured brightness in the driver's field of view, except that when the minimum measured brightness in the field of view is 10 foot-lamberts or less, the measured brightness of the light source in foot-lambert shall not exceed 500 plus 100 times the angle, in degrees, between the driver's line of sight and the light source.

The photo red cams capture digital video which is downloaded, then reviewed by an LBPD officer (Det. Robbins) who actually authorizes the citation. The tickets are mailed to the vehicle's registered owner.

By voted action, LB's City Council (Baker dissenting) authorized photo red cams in LB. Prior to the Council vote, city staff indicated City Hall could receive over $1 million per year in revenue from the fines.

The CA legislature (Sacramento) authorized cities to install photo red cams and impose the hefty fine. Revenue from the fine will be allocated between state, county and local government. LB's share of each fine amounts to roughly $41, about 15%, of the $271 citation. LB City Hall will give a percentage of the fine to the private firm that maintains the cameras. However, issuance of the citations is done by the City (through the LBPD), not by the private firm.

City Hall says the automated enforcement system is meant to "reduce the number of red light violations and collisions, to modify driver behavior, and to promote safer driving." LBPD points out that national data from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety shows on average more than 200,000 injuries and 800 deaths result annually from running red lights.

LB's photo red system uses digital video evidence and differs in some respects from one in San Diego that has prompted legal challenges. Among other things, LB's system does not use "ground loops" for detection.

All prospective LB citations will be reviewed by a police officer before being issued and LB's system records actual video (not just still pictures), permitting assessment of what took place surrounding a prospective citation.

LBPD has previously noted that "[u]nlike other camera systems, this [LB's] system uses several full view angles of recorded video footage allowing objective review of what occurred at the intersection." Prospective violations captured on video will first be reviewed by a police officer and "if it is determined that the violation is questionable or the result of extenuating circumstances, the citation will not be issued."

LBPD also notes that at each photo red cam location, the "intersection will be clearly posted that automated enforcement is in use."

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