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Democratic legislators seek to give motorists more visible notice of speed cameras

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 Democrats have filed legislation intended to give motorists more visible notice when speed cameras are operating in school zones after residents expressed outrage over thousands of $80 tickets generated by the rollout of the county's new traffic photo program.

Legis. Judith Jacobs (D-Woodbury) and David Denenberg (D-Merrick) Monday filed proposed amendments calling for installation of "conspicuous" signs advising motorists of the camera-monitored speeding program and requiring each sign to be equipped with a yellow flashing light when the system is operating.

The bill also stipulates that the system can only operate between 7 a.m. though 6 p.m. on school days, which are the hours cited in state law.

County Executive Edward Mangano last week dismissed 40,000 speed zone tickets issued by the program's first six cameras in the past month after learning that 10,000 citations had been issued in error. He said the full program, expected to generate $25 million annually, will go into effect when school starts next week.

County officials had received angry calls and emails from constituents who complained they had no idea that the school-zone speed cameras had begun operating. Some motorists received multiple citations; one Bethpage resident found 11 tickets in her mailbox on the same day, for a cost of $880.

"If the idea is to protect public safety, then the enforcement must be obvious and fair in its warnings," Jacobs said. "It cannot and should not be a 'gotcha' scenario."

Denenberg said, "If you're trying to promote public safety, you need full, proper and complete public notice of the camera at that location and the hours of operation."

The county legislature unanimously adopted the state-authorized speed zone camera program in June. After Denenberg complained during committee meetings that motorists would not get adequate warning, the legislature amended the law to require signs stating: "Speed limit enforced by photo/video."

Motorists complained, however, that the small black-and-white signs were not visible at some locations until after they passed the camera, while others were obscured by trees. Many also complained there was no warning that summer school was in session in some districts.

In response to the Democrats' proposal, a Mangano spokesman said the county executive "is very receptive to the installation of yellow lights and is already looking into its feasibility after discussions with Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves."

But Frank Moroney, an aide to Gonsalves (R-East Meadow), said Democrats "in their haste to appear as though they're doing something to cure a problem" may have proposed a bill that conflicts with state law. He said it would extend camera operations beyond county law, which calls for monitoring an hour before and an hour after the start and dismissal of school. He also said flashing lights may require town and village approvals.

Moroney added that school speed zones already exist: "People who speed through those speed zones are subject to being ticketed right now. All the county has done, by unanimous vote of the legislature, is to create an alternative enforcement mechanism."

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