ALBANY – State lawmakers Tuesday approved a measure permitting Buffalo to install cameras on streets around some schools in the city in order to crack down on motorists who speed.
The legislation creates the speed camera system under a five-year pilot program in which the devices will be limited to no more than 20 school zone locations at any one time.
While some communities in the nation have taken down traffic infraction cameras over questions about their effectiveness, supporters of the Buffalo camera program to catch speeders predict children and other pedestrians around often-busy school zones will be better protected.
“These school speed cameras will help identify these school zones for drivers, calm drivers and keep our children safe," said Sen. Tim Kennedy, a Buffalo Democrat and sponsor of the bill in the Senate.
Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes, a Buffalo Democrat, has the bill in the Assembly. "The city of Buffalo is just doing a demonstration project. We really don't need to a demonstration because we know this works in the City of New York,'' she said.
Rochester ended a red light camera enforcement program a couple of years ago after the city’s mayor said poor neighborhoods were being disproportionately hit with costly tickets.
The Buffalo effort is being twinned with a bill permitting New York City to expand its camera infraction program. The five boroughs have red light and speed cameras; the bill raises from 140 to 750 the number of school zones covered by speed cameras in the city. Nine other jurisdictions in the state have red light cameras, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
The camera bills for Buffalo and New York City easily passed both the Assembly and Senate Tuesday afternoon.
“We want to be sure that Buffalo has the same life-saving system that they have in New York City," Kennedy said.
School zone speed cameras were begun in New York City in 2013. City transportation officials have reported a decline in speeding in zones covered by cameras; officials there also say the risk of pedestrian death when hit by a vehicle rises from 5 percent when the motorist is driving at 20 mph to 45 percent at 30 mph.
The measure comes as Buffalo officials are looking to make mandatory – instead of the current advisory warning – a 15 mph speed limit around 100 public and private schools in the city. Buffalo’s speed limit is 30 mph. Will Keresztes, chief of intergovernmental affairs, planning and community engagement for the Buffalo Public Schools, told the City Council last month that there has been a noticeable rise in reckless driving in school zones.
The legislation limits photographs to be taken of only those vehicles exceeding the speed limit by more than 10 mph. The bill has no provisions to address repeat speeding offenders.
Under the Buffalo measure, requested in home rule legislation by the city, cameras can be mounted in stationary positions or via mobile platforms that can be moved at the city’s discretion. The city adjudicates infractions and determines – based on a number of measures, including crash history and a roadway’s “geometry” – where the cameras will be placed. A separate law then needs to be passed by the city identifying the locations of the speed cameras.
The cameras will be live – and capturing license plate and vehicle images of those violating speed laws – for an hour before the start of school and throughout the day until an hour after school ends. During school activities, they will be turned on from 30 minutes prior to an event’s start until 30 minutes after.
The person in whose name the vehicle is registered is the one who gets the ticket – with a fine of up to $50 – whether or not they were actually driving the car at the time of the violation. Vehicle owners will have a right to get paid by the driver who was speeding through a school zone. Drivers have 10 days to pay a fine or face a $25 surcharge.
The infraction is not a moving violation, but will be considered a parking infraction. As a result, no points are added on a license and it doesn’t become an insurance matter for drivers caught speeding. For privacy reasons, faces of anyone in the vehicle, as well as any contents, will be blurred by the camera monitoring system. Photographs will be destroyed after a fine is paid.
A legislative memo accompanying the bill cites a study by a group called Safe Kids Worldwide that found a 13 percent increase in the pedestrian death rate among 12- to 19-year-olds in the United States since 2013.
The legislation also requires warning signs notifying drivers that they are about to enter a school zone with a speed monitoring camera.
Buffalo will also have to issue a report to the state with a variety of specifics about its speed camera program, including number of violations issued and amount of revenue the city has received.
Senator Michael Ranzenhofer, an Amherst Republican, voted against the bill because of what he said is a lack of adequate deterrence, such as taking away the license or registration of a driver or vehicle owner for repeatedly violating speeding laws. "There's nothing here which deals with driver behavior,'' Ranzenhofer said during the Senate floor debate.
Kennedy told his colleagues during a floor debate that he did not have information about how much Buffalo projects it will receive from speeders caught on camera.
The measure will need to be signed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, which is expected.
"We must continue to do everything we can to calm traffic in school zones. This tool serves to remind all motorists to slow down, obey traffic laws and keep our children safe,'' said Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown.