Senate Transportation Committee Passes Senator Wiener’s Street Safety Package

April 23, 2024

SACRAMENTO – The Senate Transportation Committee passed Senator Scott Wiener’s (D-San Francisco) Senate Bills 960 and 961, the Speeding and Fatality Emergency Reduction on California Streets (SAFER California Streets) Package to reduce skyrocketing traffic deaths in California. SB 960 requires Caltrans to prioritize road improvements for pedestrians, cyclists, and public transit riders. SB 961 requires speed safety devices installed in new cars manufactured or sold in California, and side underride guards in all trucks.

Senator Wiener amended SB 961 to require half of all new cars manufactured or sold in California include “passive” speed governors — devices that warn speeding drivers to slow down using audio and visual warnings  — beginning in 2029, with 100% of new cars containing them by 2032. SB 961 was also amended to direct the State Office of Fleet and Asset Management to pilot active speed governors - which would prevent a vehicle from exceeding a specified threshold beyond the speed limit - in part of the state vehicle fleet, reporting on the impact of the technology on safety. 

SB 960 passed the Committee 11-4, and SB 961 passed 8-4. Both bills head next to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

“Every year we lose over 4,000 Californians to avoidable crashes — and the number is rising. We need to think big to slash these unacceptable daily tragedies,” said Senator Wiener. “The SAFER California Streets Package enacts commonsense changes to transform our streets from a hazard to the vital transportation channel we need.”

SB 960

In transportation planning, “Complete Streets” is an approach to designing and operating roads and the surrounding infrastructure that accounts for all road users, including pedestrians, cyclists, motorists, and transit riders. It also accounts for the needs of communities that have been systematically ignored in the design of the built environment, including the disability community, the aging community, those without access to vehicles, and communities of color.

Complete Streets elements can include sidewalks, bike lanes, bus-only lanes, comfortable and accessible public transportation stops, frequent and safe crosswalks, median islands, accessible pedestrian signals, curb extensions, narrower travel lanes, and more.

In California, most surface roads maintained by the state do not have infrastructure to protect the full range of road users. Most (55%) projects in Caltrans’s biggest road maintenance program, the State Highway Operation and Protection Program (SHOPP) have no complete streets elements. Many state-owned roads currently have no or deficient sidewalks, minimal crosswalks, no bike lanes, or any safe facilities for vulnerable road users. The result is that state roads are inaccessible or dangerous to many potential users.

In 2019, the Legislature passed SB 127 (Wiener), which required Caltrans to prioritize safe and connected facilities for pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit riders on all SHOPP projects and in the asset management plan. Such improvements are consistent with recommendations outlined in the State’s Climate Action Plan for Transportation Infrastructure (CAPTI). Governor Newsom vetoed the bill but implemented many of its provisions in watered-down form through executive order.

SB 960 codifies the Department’s commitment to implement complete streets by requiring Caltrans to prioritize the implementation of safe, convenient, and connected facilities for pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit users on all SHOPP projects.

SB 960 requires Caltrans to include complete streets facilities - including transit priority facilities - in the asset management plan and set targets and performance measures for complete streets facilities in the state highway system management plan. SB 960 further requires the Department to establish a streamlined process for the approval of pedestrian facilities, traffic calming improvements, bicycle facilities, and transit priority treatments at locations where state-owned facilities intersect with local facilities.

Prioritizing Transit

Buses and some other modes of public transportation are often stuck in traffic, creating a slow, frustrating, and stressful experience for riders and making transit less attractive. Planners can improve this experience by designating certain roads to be transit priority roads, which could include adding features like a rapid bus lane.

Caltrans has engaged in preliminary stakeholder engagement to develop a transit priority policy. The timeline for development of this policy – or its specific objectives – is currently unclear. Amidst a backdrop of transit ridership struggling to rebound and car ownership costing more than it ever has, it is imperative that this process proceed swiftly.

SB 960 directs Caltrans to develop – by January 1, 2026 – a transit priority policy as well as transit priority facility design guidance by July 1, 2027 to help improve transit travel time reliability, speeds, reduced transit and rider delay, and improved accessibility at stops, stations, and boarding facilities.

Senate Bill 960 passed the Senate Transportation Committee in a vote of 11-4. It is sponsored by Calbike, SPUR, Streets For All, AARP California, KidSafe SF, and Walk SF.

SB 961

The chance of a fatal crash drastically increases when a driver is speeding. According to the California Office of Traffic Safety’s (OTS) 2023 Traffic Safety Report, 1/3rd of all traffic fatalities in the state between 2017 and 2021 were speeding-related. The National Association of City  Transportation Officials (NACTO) notes that “a person hit by a car traveling at 35 miles per hour is five times more likely to die than a person hit by a car traveling at 20 miles per hour.”

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, drivers have engaged in increasingly reckless behavior, putting themselves and others at risk. TRIP found a 23% increase in speeding-related crashes in California from 2019-2022.

Passive speed governors will be required in all vehicles sold in the EU beginning July of this year. The devices must warn drivers when they have surpassed the legal speed limit of a specific roadway through alarms or accelerator resistance.

In line with NTSB recommendations, SB 961 requires every passenger vehicle, truck, and bus manufactured or sold in the state to be equipped with speed governors that warn speeding drivers to slow down by 2032 with audio and visual signals. SB 961’s speed governor requirement does not apply to emergency vehicles. 

Furthermore, the bill allows the California Highway Patrol (CHP) to use its discretion to authorize the disabling of speed governors on vehicles based on the specialized use of the vehicle, provided that the vehicle’s use is reasonable and would not pose a public safety risk.

SB 961 also requires the State Office of Fleet and Asset Management to pilot active intelligent speed assistance systems – which can limit a vehicle’s speed to a specified speed threshold based on the speed limit of that road segment.

Further, SB 961 requires all trucks with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) above 10,000 lbs.

manufactured, sold, or registered in the state to be equipped with side underride guards, also known as side guards. These guards attach to the sides of trailers in order to prevent side underride collisions where passenger vehicles, pedestrians, or bicyclists are swept or pinned under a truck’s trailer.

Senate Bill 961 passed the Senate Transportation Committee in a vote of 8-4. It is sponsored by CalBike, Streets For All, KidSafe SF, and Walk SF.