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Editorial: The paradox of school speed cameras

A sign warns motorists of a speed traffic

A sign warns motorists of a speed traffic camera in front of the Unqua Elementary School on Unqua Road in Massapequa. Credit: Kevin P. Coughlin

Speed cameras in school zones have been touted as solutions for two problems in Nassau County, but the more they help with one, the less they'll solve the other.

If the cameras -- and warnings of cameras -- slow down drivers, that's a win for public safety. But it also means the cameras won't generate much revenue, because speeding will decline. If the cameras create a ton of revenue because no one slows down, that means plenty of cash, but it also means the cameras aren't keeping people from speeding.

This year state legislators gave Nassau and Suffolk counties permission to place one speed camera in each school district. Nassau began its program this summer, while Suffolk will begin in mid-2015. Last week, County Executive Edward Mangano ordered the first 40,000 speed-camera tickets in Nassau forgiven because drivers weren't aware of the cameras, and some of the equipment was malfunctioning.

Mangano says he will not run this as a "gotcha" program, and that no tickets will be issued unless drivers exceed school-zone limits by more than 10 mph. He says safety, not revenue, is the main concern, and he hopes to put up flashing yellow lights and highly visible signs to warn people to slow down. That's all fine, but the cameras gained more attention when they were proposed for the $25 million a year the county over-optimistically said they might bring in. That amount would take 500,000 tickets per year. That money is sorely needed by Nassau, which sold the revenue as a way to afford unfreezing wages of county workers, and at a time when sales tax revenues have plummeted unexpectedly.

It looks like Mangano's plan for the cameras will slow drivers and reduce the danger to pedestrians and children. Now, he just has to find a way to reduce the danger that his next annual budget, due on Sept. 15, won't be balanced.