Cameras have stood guard outside New York City schools for years to keep children safe from speeding cars, and city officials say they have led to fewer injuries and crashes. Now the city is sharply expanding the use of such cameras to nearly every neighborhood. It’s part of a far-reaching effort to enforce speed limits, including on busy streets with no schools and at times when classes are out – at night, on holidays and during summer vacation. The result will be the nation’s largest urban network of automated speed cameras, with a nearly 10-fold increase to more than 2,000 cameras deployed in 750 areas within a quarter-mile radius of a school, effectively blanketing the city.

If a camera catches a vehicle going more than 10 miles per hour over the speed limit – 25 mph on most streets – a $50 fine is mailed to the registered owner.

Critics are accusing the city of “policing for profit.”

“New York City is going to become just one big speed trap,” said Shelia Dunn, a spokeswoman for the National Motorists Association. “Making every street in New York into a school speed zone is not really going to protect people.”

Even some supporters of the cameras said the city needs to do more to protect pedestrians than simply adding more cameras, such as redesigning streets to make them safer. Others have questioned whether the school-camera program expansion was misleading and went too far.

Across the country, the spread of automated traffic-enforcement cameras has drawn protests and has fueled a backlash – especially against red-light cameras, which far outnumber speed cameras. New York was the first city in the country to roll out red-light cameras in 1993, but they are a relatively modest presence on streets, operating at 150 intersections.

Jenny O’Connell, a program manager for the National Association of City Transportation Officials says speed cameras reduce crashes, injuries and deaths, and research data has shown they act as speed deterrents. Most drivers who are caught once do not get caught again, she said.

Other experts say speed cameras can contribute to gridlock and fender-benders when drivers, upon spotting a camera, suddenly slow down. The cameras also do not eliminate dangers from other obstacles, such as jaywalkers or cyclists running red lights.

New York began testing speed cameras on a limited basis in 20 school zones in 2013, and the next year was authorized by the state to expand them to 140 school zones. Now 239 speed cameras are operating in 169 school zones. City transportation officials oversee the program, selecting camera sites and reviewing violations before fines are mailed.

State law had required speed cameras to be placed within a quarter mile of a school on streets where there was a building entrance or exit. The camera hours varied by school, but generally ran from one hour before to one hour after the school day. For the first time, cameras can now be installed along high-crash streets even if there is no school. Camera hours will more than double and operate year-round, from 6:00am to 10:00pm every weekday. Senator Andrew Gounardes said the changes allow the cameras to protect students and families walking to and from schools, and cover activities outside of regular school hours, such as play rehearsals and summer camps.

Around schools that already have speed cameras, the number of crashes dropped by an average of 15% to 2,442 a year, down from 2,870, according to a city analysis of data from 2012 to 2016. During that time, fatalities fell by an average of 55%, dropping to eight from 18 a year; severe injuries fell by 17%, to 134 from 162 a year. The cameras also led to a reduction in speeding, with an average of 104 violations issued each day for a typical speed camera in the first month compared with 51 violations a day by the end of the first year. More than three-fourths of vehicle owners who were fined did not receive a second violation. More than 5.2 million violations have been issued – totaling more than $228 million in fines – through last year.

City officials have already authorized the installation of new cameras and expected to have 300 cameras operating in 215 school zones by mid-July, when the expansion takes effect. They plan to add between 40 and 60 new cameras a month through the end of 2021.

Source: New York Times

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