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LA police can't enforce speed limits on most city streets

A Los Angeles Police Department patrol car.
steve lyon/Flickr Creative Commons
Los Angeles police can't enforce speeding limits on streets that haven't been surveyed recently to check driver speeds, and that's a majority of city roads.

Los Angeles police say they can't enforce posted speed limits on a majority of streets in the city because state law requires roads have recent surveys tracking how fast motorists drive on them.

Budget and staffing cuts during the recession have reduced the city's ability to conduct new surveys, so speeding tickets can't be issued, according to a new report discussed by the City Council's transportation committee Wednesday.

LAPD has several tools to monitor car speeds. Police can pace a car to determine its speed, but that’s seen as dangerous in many situations, so they prefer to use radar or laser.

Under the California law, using such equipment is only allowed on streets that have been surveyed by the city within the last 10 years. About three-quarters of L.A. streets haven’t been checked in that time period.

"Our ability as a police department to enforce speed — our hands have basically been tied," said LAPD Officer Troy Williams, speaking before the transportation committee.

Officials want to address the issue as part of a new city safety initiative called Vision Zero, which aims to eliminate traffic fatalities through a combination of engineering, education and enforcement improvements.

Seleta Reynolds, L.A. Department of Transportation general manager, said speeding is the single biggest factor in deadly crashes.

"If we could get everyone in the city to slow down to a safe speed, we could save hundreds of lives every year," she said.

The newly approved city budget includes funding to hire two new employees to help with the back log of street surveys.

Officials are also pushing the state of California to change its speed enforcement law so police have more flexibility to enforce speeding limits.

The same state law could also trigger speed limit increases after a new survey is completed, city officials said. That's because the surveys determine the average speed of driving on the streets and that can lead to higher limits. They said increasing allowable speeds would be counter to the goals of Vision Zero.