Members of the Nassau County Legislature voted unanimously, on Dec. 15, to repeal the use of speed cameras in school zones around the county. According to officials, over 400,000 tickets were issued since September 2014, garnering $32 million for the county. Of the tickets issued, 60 percent were for speeds 1 to 5 mph over the violation threshold, while 27 percent were issued from 7-9 a.m. and 2-4 p.m., when students were most likely to be walking to or from school.
“This program was flawed from the beginning, even though representatives from both the State and the County, and from both parties, voted for it,” said Nassau County Legislator Judy Jacobs. “It was presented as a school safety issue. At the county level, we insisted before we voted that there would be proper signage and flashing beacon lights, as well as prior warnings to residents that the program was being initiated. We were assured by the administration that all of these measures would be put in place, but, unfortunately, this was not the case.”
The cameras, which were introduced this past August, issue an automatic $80 traffic ticket (plus additional fees if you pay by credit card) to any vehicle exceeding the posted limit within a 10 mph buffer, during school hours. However, while officials touted it as a means to keep school children safe, the program quickly caught the attention of several Nassau county drivers, who were unexpectedly issued summonses before summer vacation had even ended. The county was forced to refund over $2 million in ticket fees, as a result.
“This vote is a tacit admission that the program was a money-grab from the start,” said Robert Sinclair Jr., manager of media relations for AAA New York. “Few things are more important than school zone safety, and those who drive recklessly deserve a penalty, but Nassau penalized safe drivers to fill budget gaps. When there is no apparent connection between enforcement and traffic safety, the public loses trust in its government.”
According to Sinclair, AAA New York sent a memorandum to the state legislature, stating that speed cameras “have the potential to enhance safety,” as long as “thorough study and judicious oversight” takes place and if revenue is exclusively “dedicated to traffic safety.” Because these conditions have not occurred in Nassau County, Sinclair said “the program should be discontinued as rapidly was implemented.”
Legislator Jacobs said that another major flaw in the program were the locations chosen. In every instance, the county arranged to place cameras in specific locations without input from the school districts or local elected officials.
“Due to the lack of transparency, I immediately called for a suspension of the program and submitted corresponding legislation. That plea was disregarded and I repeated my call for suspending the program for the next two months, to no avail,” Jacobs added.
On Dec. 3, Nassau County Democrats filed a bill calling for the repeal of the speed camera program. Shortly after, officials in Suffolk County announced that they were pulling from plans to initiate a similar program. Meanwhile, Nassau County Republicans chimed in with their own bill, also demanding the program’s repeal.
“The sad truth is that of the 400,000 tickets given countywide, approximately 90,000—or about 25 percent—were in the 16th Legislative District,” Jacobs said. “My final thought on the program is that it was seriously flawed. However, speeding is a serious problem and the statistics proved that. In my estimation, we must all be aware of the need to respect a school zone and to alter our driving as responsible residents.”
Despite the repeal, Nassau County officials said that drivers who have been issued a speed camera violation will still be responsible to pay their fines.