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How to keep kids safe from school zone speeders

These studies show that deploying speed enforcement cameras in school zones are effective and efficient ways to slow down speeders and keep kids safer


Sponsored by Jenoptik

By Laura Neitzel, Police1 BrandFocus Staff

Seeing a driver zoom through a school zone makes my blood boil. Drivers should be more careful in school zones – and should pay the price when they speed through. But often it’s the kids who pay the price.

Speed cameras have proven effective as deterrents to drivers speeding in school zones.
Speed cameras have proven effective as deterrents to drivers speeding in school zones. (Jenoptik)

In 2016, Safe Kids Worldwide conducted a study of 39,000 middle and high school students and 56,000 drivers in school zones. It identified some alarming dangers in school zones:

  • Kids will be kids. They do irresponsible things like text on their phones while listening to music while walking in a high-traffic area. The study found that 1 in 4 high schoolers and 1 in 6 middle school students are distracted while walking.
  • Almost 80% of middle and high school students exhibited unsafe street crossing behaviors, like not crossing at crosswalks.
  • Inexperienced teen drivers account for about 55% of school aged deaths in the U.S.
  • Nearly half of the 12- to 19-year olds surveyed perceive they are as likely or more likely to be victims of a school shooting than of being struck by a vehicle, although their chances of being hit by a car is actually 192 times greater.
  • Adults are not necessarily more attentive. 1 in 3 drivers exhibit unsafe drop-off or pick-up behaviors in school zones.

How to get a teenager to be less teenager-y has been a problem since at least the days of Socrates – and adults, in theory, should be more responsible. However, since human behavior can be hard to control, technology can help solve the problem.

Lighter traffic doesn’t lead to safer roads

It wasn’t just my imagination that during the COVID-19 pandemic some drivers treated the open roads like their own private racetrack. Both the National Safety Council and The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety report a higher number of traffic fatalities in the United States during the pandemic, despite a large reduction in the total number of miles driven on U.S. roads. 

In 2020, in my home state of Texas, pedestrian crashes increased by 9% over 2019.

Not surprisingly, speeding is a dominant factor in both the likelihood and severity of a pedestrian-vehicle collision.

A driver at 40 mph needs 300 feet to perceive, react and brake to an unexpected event ─ twice as far as a driver at 25 mph who only needs 150 feet. A pedestrian hit by a vehicle traveling at 20 mph is nearly two-thirds less likely to be killed, compared to a pedestrian struck by a vehicle traveling at 30 mph.

A logical solution to reduce incidents of school-aged children being injured or killed in pedestrian-vehicle collisions is to reduce speed, especially in school zones. But does it work?

New York City embarked on an extensive pilot program to find out.

Speed cameras work

In 2013, the State of New York passed legislation allowing New York City to pilot an automated speed enforcement program to deter speeding in 20 school speed zones. The pilot was such a success that by June 2020, New York City had deployed at least one speed camera in 750 school speed zones, effective on all weekdays between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.

The speed camera program uses the same laser and radar technology that law enforcement uses to measure a vehicle’s speed. If a vehicle is measured to be exceeding the speed limit by more than 10 mph, the camera records an image of the vehicle, including the license plate.

Those images are reviewed by a remote technician for accuracy. If the vehicle is confirmed to have been exceeding the speed limit by more than 10 mph in a school zone between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., a Notice of Liability (NOL) is issued to the registered owner.

By December 2020, when the report was finalized, speeding at fixed camera locations had dropped, on average, by 72%, providing strong evidence that speed cameras are deterring dangerous speeding in school zones.

If there is one shortcoming to the speed camera program, it’s that it doesn’t go far enough. During the “epidemic of speeding” during the pandemic, one-third of all non-highway traffic fatalities happened in those school zones during nights and weekends when the speed cameras were not in operation.

The proof in the pudding

In September 2019, the Athens Clarke County Police Department in Georgia to conducted a three-day study of school zone speeding at three elementary schools.

The results were eye-opening.

In just one day, there were 1,066 violators traveling at more than 11 mph over the posted speed limit of 30. Over the three-day period, there were 2,986 similar violations.

At one elementary school, 96% of the violations occurred during the two-hour beacon enforcement periods from 6-7 a.m. and 2:15-3:15 p.m.

The study revealed a clear need for a school zone speed safety camera program. Athens-Clarke County authorized the use of school zone speed safety cameras with recorded images for use during school hours and one hour before and after and when beacons are flashing.

Double duty cameras are a benefit to law enforcement

While the cameras are only authorized for speed enforcement use during school hours, the cameras have a dual purpose as automatic license plate readers. The ability to capture the license plates of every passing vehicle scanned by the camera, 24/7, gives law enforcement an extra tool for keeping the community safe by identifying stolen vehicles, locating Amber and Silver alerts and deterring criminal activity.

Whether along the bustling streets of New York City to tree-lined campuses in Athens, Georgia, I think everyone can agree that school zone safety cameras are a smart and efficient way to ensure the safety of students, other pedestrians and drivers alike by slowing down speeders.

Visit Jenoptik for more information.

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