It’s Not the Size of the School Zone That Matters, but Who It’s Meant to Protect

recent article published by Newsday argues that crash data does not support the location of speed safety cameras installed near schools throughout Nassau County. The “computer analysis” states that cameras have been placed in “dozens of areas with no history of speed-related accidents.” Of the 76 school zones that Newsday analyzed, they found that only 19 had seen any speed-related crashes between 2009 and 2013.

Newsday’s methodology used an extremely narrow definition of “school zone.” The analysis defines a school zone as marked areas of roads near schools where drivers are instructed to slow down, which essentially limits the analysis to a small sample of cherry-picked street segments near schools. This was based on the highly questionable tactic of “basing the length of each zone on a review of photos of traffic signs in the area taken by Google’s Street View Cameras. When such imagery was not available, Newsday created school zones that were the maximum length allowed by law.”

The safety of a school zone monitored by camera technology extends beyond the designated school zone and is an added benefit for the technology. Wherever speed cameras have been installed, researchers have found that automated enforcement prompts drivers to slow down both before and after drivers enter areas monitored by cameras. This phenomenon, known as the distance halo effect, means that drivers are altering their behavior outside camera range as well. This is particularly important because children traveling to and from school are not confined to sidewalks and crossings solely within school zones.

For these reasons, Tri-State’s analysis used a single definition of “school zone” that encompasses a full quarter mile buffer around a school – the maximum allowable area according to state law. This method paints a more realistic picture of the safety conditions along routes that school age children actually take and vehicles travel. Our finding that 40 percent of the pedestrian fatalities occurred within the maximum allowable school zone is determined by state law and is based on a legal definition, not Tri-State’s interpretation, unlike the subjective school zone created for the Newsday analysis. While not everyone killed in these areas were school-aged children as Tri-State notes, it is irrefutable that 14 pedestrians were killed by cars in these zones.

The whole point of these enforcement mechanisms is to enhance safety for all, but especially for children. While Nassau County should have conducted more analyses and studies and worked with the school community and other stakeholders to determine the best locations, there is sound logic for placing cameras around schools. The fact that 40 percent of Nassau County’s pedestrian fatalities occurred within a quarter mile of a school should raise a huge red flag for Long Island residents, parents, drivers, and legislators. Instead, the entire safety message has been eclipsed in an effort to discredit our analysis.

We stand by our analysis as Newsday stands behind theirs. We also stand by the fact that arguing over the definition of school zones is an arbitrary exercise that serves only to prove one point: “The best argument for traffic cameras is their opponents.” The simple truth is that pedestrians are dying on Nassau County’s streetsnearly 250 since 2005, averaging 30 per year according to data provided by the Federal Highway Fatality Reporting Systemand the method that shows the most dramatic safety gains is now facing a repeal.

Tri-State agrees with many of the frustrations and issues raised during the discussion of this program, but while the rollout of the program may have been flawed, the data is indisputable: speeding around school zones is a rampant problem in Nassau County. Over 424,000 citations were given for driving in excess of a posted speed limit in a school zone. Rather than giving in to the arguments of a few selfish, lawbreaking drivers who refuse to slow down in areas designated solely to protect children, Nassau County elected officials should be advocating for better engineering and enforcement strategies to improve safety on streets countywide, and revenue from any camera technology program should be dedicated to engineering improvements in areas where they are placed, not for unrelated purposes such as filling general budget gaps. For example, Albany’s red light camera program stipulates that “All funds in excess of the budgeted revenue… shall be transferred to a Traffic Safety Fund.”

TSTC is a nonprofit policy and advocacy group that does not receive funds or contributions from camera technology manufacturers. One of the goals of our mission is to make roadways safer for all users via engineering, enforcement, and education. 

17 Comments on "It’s Not the Size of the School Zone That Matters, but Who It’s Meant to Protect"

  1. Patricia Loren | December 11, 2014 at 4:00 pm |

    I am DISGUSTED that a minority of loudmouths made enough of a stink, thus causing the County Executive to cave. Caving to a minority group does not solve problems, it creates them. Instead of complaining, all motorists needed to do was SLOW DOWN. Speed limits have been around since the horse and buggy. The signs are THERE. For too long, motorists have IGNORED the speed limits. When forced to OBEY them, they really got angry. We all know that revenue was a huge part of the speed cams. However, if it forced people to slow down, thus decreasing the number of speeding-related fatalities, then it was a GOOD thing. I wish the County Executive would LISTEN TO THE MAJORITY of us law-abiding citizens who do NOT want the speed cams taken away. I think it’s a sad day when we allow law-breakers to prevail.

  2. frank gifford | December 11, 2014 at 5:10 pm |

    patricia I am all for laws when they are for the good of the people but this was a money grab pure and simple nothing else.A newsday article shows there where no people injured at any of these sites due to speeding.

  3. Patricia Loren | December 11, 2014 at 5:55 pm |

    Frank: Speed limits ARE law. Have been since the horse & buggy. If you mean the speed cams, how are they bad when they are enforcing a law that so many motorists disregarded for so many years? In essence, people are saying, “If I speed and no one/nothing is there to ‘catch’ me, then I get away with breaking the law”. If there were cops on every corner, people would go slow. TRUST ME. However, it is not possible to have cops on every corner of every street on Long Island. Also, why do we need to wait for people to be killed to do something about the excessive speeding on Long Island? What if it was one of YOUR family members that got killed because of a speeder (in front of a school or not)? Would you be happy about that? Why does society always have to wait until a certain number of people die to make the necessary adjustments/changes?
    How is it a “money grab”? If you drive the posted speed limit, you have NOTHING to worry about! Even BEFORE the speed cams, I drove no more than 2-3 mph over the posted limit. I NEVER received ONE ticket from a speed cam (and I pass THREE (3) schools with speed cams EVERY DAY on my way to/from work. It’s so easy [to obey the speed limit] … even a caveman can do it!
    I’d rather take my chances with the speed cams than to have to pay higher taxes and/or make due with an understaffed police force and/or cuts in hospital/social services. Mangano says cuts will have to be made in these areas to make up the revenue lost from speed cams (we apparently have enough speeders on LI to help balance the budget!!)

    Oh and P.S.: “VALLEY STREAM – Police say a 12-year-old boy was hit and killed by a car in Valley Stream this morning. The unidentified boy was walking on South Franklin Avenue at Merrick Road around 7 a.m. when the incident occurred. The Valley Stream Central High School District confirms the boy was a student at Memorial Junior High School.”

    Accidents DO happen (whether due to speeding or some other type of reckless driving) and people DO DIE as a result of motorists not obeying traffic laws. I hope that boy isn’t related to YOU!

  4. Newsdays data accuracy is suspect to begin with and the writers use of the word “accident” to describe crashes goes to show how ignorant the writer is of the subject. Drivers do not accidentally go double the speed limit, do not accidentally have a few drinks before getting behind the wheel, do not accidentally text message and drive.

    Was this a “money grab”? WHO CARES as long as it reduces speeding. Reality is the only thing that will stop most drivers is to hit them in the wallet. It’s a great way to curb behavior while simultaneously generating revenue.

    You know, at the end of the day what is ultimately lost here is the fact that driving is a revokable privelege whereas walking and cycling is an inherent right. Nassau County is displaying

  5. I think the state law that restricts speed cameras to school zones makes it difficult, to say the least, to put cameras in areas where speeding has caused deaths and injuries.

  6. Highway robbery… nothing more. There was no epidemic of kids getting hit by cars in front of schools here in nassau. Your data sucks and is weak , in my opinion and many others. We have blew this wide open, and even the contracts between ats and nassau county mentions nothing about safety only about revenue.

  7. Patricia, it’s not a “minority” of loudmouths, it’s a majority of citizens who are tired of our elected officials lying to us and using us as a means to fund their lack of financial planning skills and wasteful spending. I never got a ticket, but I am opposed to the cameras. Many other states have tried the cameras, and almost every single one of the states have removed them. The technology is not reliable- factors like weather and clouds can alter the readings. As well, when multiple cars are in the line of radar, it can’t pick out which car is speeding and it results in false speeding tickets. Want to fight it? Sure, take a day off from work and STILL have to pay $40 even if you are found to be right.

    The boy you speak of, while tragic, was NOT killed in a school zone, and witnesses say that speed was not a factor in the death. How would a school zone camera have saved this boy exactly? Most pedestrian accidents happen because of pedestrians failure to heed to the law, not the drivers.

  8. Based of the definition used above, now if you look at at map of Nassau county schools and you use above parameters,almost every street,road,ave South of the L. I E would fall with in that definition

  9. Allison Blanchette – The boy in Valley Stream’s death was a tragedy. However, maybe you should look at the facts of that accident

    It was NOT in a school Zone
    Speed was NOT a factor in the death.

  10. Ryan Hall – You want to talk about poor data analysis? look at your own TSTC report that is often used to justify red light cameras

    It states “In 2012 alone, among the 37 pedestrians killed on Nassau County’s streets, 14 were hit within a quarter of a mile of school, accounting for nearly 40 percent of total pedestrian fatalities countywide.”

    However, it fails to point out that of those 40%, Not a single death was a child in a school zone on a school day. Please Please release the rest of the data if you have the guts just to show how badly data can be interpreted.

  11. Let’s not beat around the bush, the pro camera posts are bicycle advocates and TSTC shills. Your campaign for the cameras failed but yet you continue to use false info to try to promote this agenda. It is clear these were not needed by your own statistics and believe it or not, the constituents of Nassau have spoken and kicked these to the curb. Real Democracy in action, not a special interest lobbyist group hiding behind their 501c3. Keep up the lobbying effort and maybe you can make real change where it is needed. On the otherhand, you also may find yourselves testifying at a Senate hearing explaining to Sen.Hatch some more of your 990 filings.

  12. To everyone defending the cameras: if these are for safety why are the cameras programmed to give tickets to only those going 10mph over the speed limit?

  13. Looking at accident data within 1/4 mile of all Starbucks locations shows that 100% of accidents occur near a Starbucks. We obviously need to install cameras around every Starbucks and limit people’s caffeine intake to prevent this atrocity.

    Does anyone else see how self serving these ridiculous stats are besides me?

  14. While replying to the other commenters I failed to read the entire blog. YOU ARE RIGHT Nassau County elected officials should be advocating for better engineering, with REAL pedestrian safety measures that you folks suggested with your walking tour of Sunrise Hwy last summer. We need better sidewalks and bike lanes, complemented by chicanes to naturally slow traffic and grooved pavement to inform drivers that speeds are changing etc.. We need all these things how are you for it? Long Island drivers have made it abundantly clear we are not going to.

  15. “Nassau County elected officials should be advocating for better engineering.”
    Too bad they encouraged everyone with a modicum of experience to retire, and what used to be a Traffic Engineering Unit of DPW with dozens of workers, is now an over-worked skeleton crew.

    That said, whoever thinks these cameras are about safety, has nothing to stand on.
    School speed limits are not based on the safe travel speed of the road, they have nothing to do with the approach speeds or the road width or the school setback from the road. They may be completely arbitrary.

    Also, the lack of visibility of many of these cameras, school speed limit signs, and schools is atrocious, especially around 6:00 p.m. from November to March when it’s DARK!

    Ever notice how often these signs have no nearby street lights, which leads to people getting tickets at 5:59:30 p.m.?

    Ever notice how the school on Lido Boulevard, which is set back hundreds of feet from the road, has one of the highest camera ticketing? That is not a coincidence.

    Ever notice that the rollout was purposely done over the summer, when no one would rationally be expected to know that schools were in session on certain days of the week from 8am to noon??
    You’re not supposed to have to listen to local media to know what the traffic rules are for you to follow. THAT IS ACTUALLY ILLEGAL.

    The TSTC **could** be a terrific advocate for safety.
    But these cameras are not about safety, which has been proven a dozen times over.

    Anyone who actually cares about safety – TSTC this includes YOU! – advocate for sidewalks, for educating kids on when it’s safe to cross the street, for educating everyone on using those pedestrian push buttons and actually waiting for the “walk” sign to come up.

    This isn’t to vilify pedestrians. But pedestrians can stop a dime and a car, even at 15 mph, can not stop on a dime.

    Let’s get the discussion back to safety and not ripping off drivers who are not doing anything wrong.

  16. I drive principally in NYC where the “posted speed limit” had been 30mph for the last fifty years, longer than I had a license. I would bet that experience is the same for almost all drivers on NYC road today.

    When I learned to drive(actually taught myself after getting licensed) I adopted certain protocols. I drive only as fast as the road conditions dictated and when I felt I was in control so as not to be a safety risk to anyone or myself. That speed generally is never more than limit but it could be more. I also note most if not all drivers pass me if the roadway is at what is called “free-flow”, no obstacles, congestion or visual warning to slow down. When NYCDOT issued a listing of high-speed roads(not limited access highways) it had scores of stretches of city roads where it was noted 100% of the observed drivers proceeded at a speed considerably in excess of the 30mph posted limit and without incident. It was implied this is where the cameras would go. I personally believe the limit should have been raised to accommodate the established safe traffic flow. Neither happened.

    I find now that it is an effort to keep to 25mph. I really can’t. I aim so far to stay just below 30mph. I try. My lifetime of driving experience is still goes to the 30mph limit, and I don’t feel “unsafe” with that. Now I see all these comments saying I’m a bad person because I DON’T IMMEDIATELY OBEY. It will take time to re-wire my brain. Maybe I’m addicted to 30mph and should find a 12-step program. Of course, there are those who wish to make all drivers criminals and penalize us.

    One can readily see why the local legislature in Suffolk County took a pass on the cameras, and the Nassau County legislators woke up and will move to dismantle it(at considerable cost). Looks like the political dance(what happens above the Tappen Zee means nothing below it). It was all premised on bad and flawed arguments, we now learn.

    I can’t wait for Staten Island, NYC’s most suburban county, to opt out of the school cameras.

  17. Patricia Loren | December 22, 2014 at 2:00 pm |

    Dana, I never wrote that the boy in Valley Stream was killed near a school or due to speeding. Just wanted to point out that accidents DO happen and children ARE killed due to motor vehicle-related accidents. I guess we live in a “doubting Thomas” society. We need to see a list of names of children who have been killed or injured by speeders near a school in order for speed limit laws to be obeyed. We need “statistics” in order to justify a method of ENFORCING a law that so many disregard(ed) and [a law that] has been around since long before any of us learned how to drive. I’ll say it again and again … I had no problems with the speed cams. Why? I made SURE I drove on the lower side of the speed limit range and never received a speed cam ticket (whether on a sunny/cloudy/rainy day or not). I was/am able to read each and every speed limit sign (in a school zone or anywhere else). Guess I was just one of the “lucky” ones? Anyway, CONGRATULATIONS to all who fought to shut down the speed cams program. What’s next on your agenda??

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