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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Traffic cameras hit a speed bump

A speed limit sign is seen along Stewart

A speed limit sign is seen along Stewart Avenue in Bethpage on Friday, Aug. 22, 2014. Credit: Jeremy Bales

Nassau County, it turns out, had some company when it voided nearly 40,000 camera-generated tickets -- many issued to motorists at times when the relevant school-zone speed restrictions were not in effect.

New Jersey judicial officials just this month asked local courts to throw out 17,000 red-light camera citations.

The contractor -- American Traffic Solutions of Arizona -- was the same as Nassau's, but the circumstances a bit different. Garden State drivers caught on camera running red lights apparently never received notices of those violations.

From farther away comes another recent twist on the camera-summons front.

The Chicago Tribune reported last month that more than 13,000 motorists in the Windy City got undeserved tickets. The paper found inconsistent enforcement of motorists making rolling right turns on red. This controversy involved a different company, Redflex Traffic Systems of Arizona.

Chicago's story also has a corruption angle. A former company CEO has been indicted, along with a top Chicago official, in a federal bribery case related to the red-light program.

All these efforts were launched in the name of traffic safety. They also will bring millions of dollars in revenue to municipalities that run them.

Bear in mind, public agencies often seem to have a hard time making new technology work. In New York City, the 911 emergency system has faced decades of systemic speed bumps. Nationwide, the initial rollout of the affordable health care website stumbled and sputtered.

But some people in politics appear less than willing to write off the traffic-camera problems as just a matter of debugging. For one, the New Jersey lawmaker who raised the recent red-light issue, Assemb. Declan O'Scanlon, called it one more reason that the state's red-light camera program should not be renewed upon its expiration in December.

At Bethpage High School on June 25, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed legislation authorizing school speed zone cameras in Nassau and in Suffolk, which plans to introduce them next year.

"This should send a message to all drivers," Cuomo said, "to slow down and obey the speed limit, especially when passing by a school."

Nobody sane would argue with the message. Penalties, of course, need to suit the violations.

Mangano last week announced the dismissal of $2.4 million in speed-camera tickets -- including 30,108 presumably valid ones and another 9,807 issued in error because of incorrect enforcement dates. The fine for each ticket is $80. He said through a spokesman he's asked the county's public works department to plan for the installation of warning systems such as flashing lights in school zones.

"It is not intended as a 'gotcha' program," insisted the spokesman, Brian Nevin. "A traffic study in Nassau indicated 200 motorists an hour exceeding school speed zone limits by at least 20 miles per hour. According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, if you hit a pedestrian at 20 mph, 5 percent will die; at 30, 45 percent will die, and at 40 mph, 85 percent will die."

American Traffic Solutions is due 38 percent of fines and penalties that the county collects on these speeding summonses. An emailed request to the company for comment Tuesday was unavailing, but Nevin said the firm "will not receive any percentage from tickets given amnesty."

For now, Nassau's program proceeds through a flashing yellow light.

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