Last-Ditch Effort Rescues School Zone Speed Cameras in Time for Start of School Year

You may have seen small cameras near public schools around New York City which catch dangerous speeders during school hours.

New York City’s school zone speed camera program was enacted in 2013 and implemented in 2014. The cameras, placed around 140 public schools across the city, are triggered to take a photo of license plates when drivers speed so that a ticket can be issued.

The speed cameras help decrease speeding, especially in school zones. In areas with speed cameras, speeding has gone down 60% and their use has coincided with a significant drop in pedestrian fatalities.

The cameras also bring air quality benefits. When families feel safer walking and biking, they are less likely to drive, creating a healthier environment for everyone. Reduced speeding also cuts down on traffic congestion, which helps decrease vehicular greenhouse gas emissions and noise pollution.

Even though the school zone speed camera program operates on New York City property – city roads – the city still needed the state’s permission to keep the cameras operational.  The program works by accessing DMV license records and therefore the state legislature claimed to have jurisdiction.

State lawmakers had renewed the program through June 2018 but did not expand it, highlighting some limitations. Because they permitted cameras to operate at just 140 school locations and to be activated only during school hours, the cameras only produced a fraction of the safety gains that would be achieved if they were implemented at more times or locations. Eighty-five percent of traffic deaths and severe injuries happen at times or locations when camera enforcement isn’t allowed.

An even more significant impediment to NYC’s school zone speed camera program occurred this summer. This past July, New York City had to suspend its use of speed cameras after lawmakers in Albany were unable to renew the program.

Although legislation passed the State Assembly renewing the program, State Senators couldn’t come to an agreement before they wrapped up their annual legislative session.

Governor Andrew Cuomo, Mayor de Blasio, and the New York City Council worked together and developed a solution to state lawmakers’ lack of support. Governor Cuomo signed an executive order giving the city access to the state DMV’s license records, the key step in allowing the city to reinstate the cameras. The City Council worked to craft legislation that not only extends the city’s camera program but also allows the city to operate more speed cameras at more schools for longer hours. The law will be in effect until the state passes a similar law, though Cuomo will have to renew the related executive order every 30 days.

This solution will improve the public health and safety of New Yorkers, however, it is not a permanent fix. The “Every School Speed Camera Act,” which the State Senate failed to even take up before going into recess, would have permanently reduced limits on the number of schools where speed cameras would be used and extended the program until 2022.

NYLCV will continue to support the New York City Council’s policy to extend the city’s school zone speed camera program, as well as policies that expand and permanently renew it.