Since Nassau County’s school zone speed camera program went into effect, there has been a 70 percent decline in violations. County Executive Ed Mangano’s spokesman Brian Nevins acknowledged that this decline in violations is indicative of a “dramatic change in driving habits”, saying “This program has increased student safety and potentially saved lives.”
Yet rather than showcasing the program’s success, Mangano is planning to drastically reduce the hours of operation for speed cameras in school zones. At the same time, Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams and other Minority Democrats are calling for the county legislature to “give the residents of Nassau the holiday gift they truly deserve and would appreciate: an immediate termination of the speed camera program,” while Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves says that the county Republicans “have been looking into the possibility of a repeal for weeks,” but want to cease more gradually.
Opponents of the program have complained about the lack of adequate signage, or that it is unclear when school hours are in effect, or that it is simply too difficult to slow down so quickly in some instances. However, there is no need to repeal the program in order to improve education. School zone speed limits are not new. The cameras may be a new means of increasing enforcement in areas with particularly vulnerable populations (i.e. children), but the laws regarding speeding in these zones were already in place, and a previous lack of enforcement does not necessarily mean that the speed camera program is unfair or unjust. In fact, the penalties issued by school zone speed cameras are significantly lower than State law requires, and thus could be considered warnings for drivers in and of themselves.
Opponents have also argued that “No one reported an epidemic of serious accidents in school zones recently.” Tri-State analyzed crash data in Nassau County in 2012 and found that nearly 40 percent of total pedestrian fatalities countywide occurred within a school zone. The analysis was based on the New York State Department of Transportation’s maximum school zone length regulations, which is .025 miles. Regardless of how one chooses to interpret these findings, the simple fact is this: suggesting that lawmakers wait until a child is killed within a school zone to justify the program’s existence is abhorrent. Safety programs, by definition, should be put into place to prevent injury, not to react to injury. Why wait until a life is lost to change behavior?
“Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano’s decision to cut back on the hours of school speed cameras sanctions the illegal and dangerous behavior of a few drivers at the expense of the safety and quality-of-life for Nassau County residents, workers, visitors and students,” stated Veronica Vanterpool, executive director for Tri-State. “Requesting the speed cameras around schools is not a mistake to be rectified. It is a measure to be applauded. However, the County went wrong in tying the revenue to County budget holes instead of dedicating the revenue to capital, aesthetic, and livability improvements countywide that would increase traffic safety. If the County wants the public to believe in the benefits of speed cameras, the County must do better to link the problem to the solution, and it did not.”
Tri-State is a non-profit advocacy group that does not receive donations or contributions from companies manufacturing camera technology. Our opinions and advocacy are based on saving lives.