Editorial: Unfair school cameras were always about $$

A school crossing sign near Roanoke Avenue Elementary School. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)
A school crossing sign near Roanoke Avenue Elementary School. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and the county’s legislators made the right call in backing off a planned camera and ticket program that was to be implemented next year in school zones across Suffolk. They did so after witnessing the uproar and outrage among those who live, work or regularly visit neighboring Nassau County. 

There’s little doubt the program will be wound down in Nassau, too, lest the politicians there get booted out of office.

Suffolk’s elected leaders recognized this as well. Despite what lawmakers in both counties still doggedly insist, this was never, ever, a valid response to safety concerns. This was always nothing but a money grab. Few people were fooled.

A meticulously reported Newsday investigation published this week supports that fact. For anyone who observes, well, the news, the report’s findings did not come as a surprise. Even with Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano insisting that speeding in school zones is a huge problem and kids’ lives are at risk, the newspaper’s investigation found that, among other things, only one of the county’s 37 fatal crashes in 2012, (the year studied by an outside group) occurred in a school zone. And that was on a Sunday, and was not speed-related.

There’s a huge flaw with the school zone cameras, and even the red-light camera systems. Other than the overall “ick” of your local government monitoring you digitally and the financial hardships inflicted on many good working people who are already struggling, some of the violations issued run counter to how we’re all taught to drive. A police officer would never issue a ticket to someone for not coming to a full stop before making a right turn on red, or for encroaching on a white box at an intersection. Certainly, driving 30 to 34 mph in a 20 mph school zone would rarely merit a speeding ticket from a police officer. Those speeding tickets are, and should be, reserved for true law-breakers, people who do put other lives in jeopardy. That’s why we have police — incidentally the best trained and highly compensated officers in the country. The system already works for schools, where the speed limits are extremely low and cars are expected to go about 10 miles per hour over a speed limit, give or take. That’s what’s been deemed acceptable by practice. It’s also proven to be a safe speed, given the infrequency of fatal accidents outside schools.

What’s unacceptable is targeting law-abiding citizens. The biggest victims of the Nassau program are those who live near the cameras. Imagine hosting visitors for the holidays or a children’s birthday party and, along with having to spend time and money on gifts, your guests get an $80 ticket. Some goodie bag.

It’s hard to think of anything more stress-inducing than what they’re doing to people in Nassau.

It’s reassuring that our leaders here recognized this.