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Long IslandColumnistsJudy Cartwright

School-zone speed violations down 70 percent under camera program, officials say

Speed cameras in front of the Dutch Broadway

Speed cameras in front of the Dutch Broadway School in Elmont on Aug. 31, 2014. Photo Credit: Newsday / Audrey C. Tiernan

Drivers perplexed by Nassau County's school-zone speed cameras were among the first to hear last week that violations have fallen by 70 percent since the program began in September.

That statistic was among the points made at a meeting in Oceanside Wednesday morning where officials with the county's Traffic and Parking Violations Agency responded to questions from residents.

"You can see it yourself," David Rich, the agency's deputy executive director, said in noting the decrease. "The program is working."

The county cited the decrease when it later announced a cutback in hours speed cameras will be in use.

In opening remarks, John Marks, executive director of the agency, repeated the county's talking points that emphasize the need for speed enforcement near schools: That in 2012, 40 pedestrians were killed in the county, 13 within school zones. And that vehicles traveling at lower speeds are less likely to kill.

The session at the Friedberg Jewish Community Center was titled "What's With All These Tickets." Among the exchanges were these:

About those 13 killed in speed zones: Were they children? Were the drivers speeding? Or impaired?

Marks said he didn't know if any of the victims were children or if the drivers were speeding, impaired, heading in the wrong direction or texting. He referred to an accident the second day of school in Glen Head in which a middle school student was struck by a car. In that one, he said, the police report indicated speeding was not a factor.

Don't you think it [the speed camera program] is overkill? Your statistics don't say that it's children who were killed. I haven't read that any children died. I feel you're trying to justify this program when there are so many intersections that are more dangerous.

The decision to use school speed cameras was made by the county legislature, which "saw a need," Marks said.

Where does the money go, and what's with the $30 extra? (A reference to the administrative fee added to the $50 fine.)

The money goes to the county's general fund, Marks said. The fee was set at $30, he said, because the county's cost of processing a ticket in 2012 was $29.

Asked why school speed limits aren't uniform — they vary from 15 mph to 30 mph — Marks said speed limit signs are under the jurisdiction of villages, towns and cities, not the county. "The county can't put up signs but it can put up cameras?"

"Yes," Marks said, "because New York State legislation and local laws say we can."

He added that yellow flashing lights are expected to be in place at 56 school-zone speed camera locations by Feb. 1.

The mention of the ticket decrease came in response to a driver's question about a delinquent notice — a $25 late fee added to the $80 — though she had never received the original ticket. She asked if she had any recourse.

Marks didn't say no. He did add this: If the agency produces certified paperwork documenting the violation, the burden of proof has been established.

There's little in the county's school-zone speed camera law to offer hope that the late fee could be dismissed: The law says the ticket must be sent to the vehicle owner by first class mail, within 14 days if the owner is a state resident. But it also says "personal delivery on the owner shall not be required."

Marks did offer a bit of hope in one scenario residents posed: "If someone got a ticket on a day school was not in session, we'll dismiss it."

SPEED CAM QUESTION OF THE WEEK

Why are school cameras being shut off at 9 a.m. at schools that don't open until later?

That inquiry was prompted by Wednesday's announcement that Nassau County's school-zone speed cameras would operate on a reduced schedule — 7 to 9 a.m. and 2 to 4 p.m., starting Monday.

"There seems to be something missed by the 'deciders,' " Marc Kubit of Massapequa wrote in an email, specifically that not every school in the county is underway by 9 a.m.

"My family has lived in Massapequa for almost 40 years so I am familiar with the hours that our public schools operate," Kubit wrote, noting that Unqua Elementary School opens at 9:15 a.m. "Ending camera enforcement at 9 a.m. is, in the minds of some of the driving public, equivalent to the expression, 'Drivers, start your engines,' as they will now be able to race to their destinations without fear of being ticketed."

The school is just south of Sunrise Highway on Unqua Road, a popular half-mile route to retail businesses, among them Westfield Sunrise mall.

When we spoke, Kubit said the cutback in speed camera hours sends a signal that "it's OK to speed after 9, though school doesn't start until 9:15. So if you're a walker, you're still in the way of traffic on a main road."

Will the county consider extending camera enforcement past 9 a.m. at schools that have later starting times?

"We left it open for the schools to request different hours," County Executive Edward Mangano said in an emailed statement.

If that leads to varying camera hours among schools, will signs specifying the hours be posted? No, said spokesman Brian Nevin: "Signs specify school zone hours — never speed camera hours."

The county says drivers should not expect to speed after 9 a.m. Nevin pointed out that, even though camera enforcement hours have been cut, the school speed zone remains in effect from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. "and those breaking the law are subject to tickets from police officers."

Don't say you weren't warned.

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