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Speed cameras coming to highway construction zones

Speed camera enforcement is on its way to work zones throughout the state.

The state Assembly has passed A.485, which creates a demonstration program for the use of speed cameras in work zones. Assemblyman Andrew Goodell, R-Jamestown, voted against the legislation, saying it doesn’t provide due process for the owners of vehicles who may not have been driving when a ticket was issued and because past demonstration programs for traffic enforcement cameras haven’t always worked as advertised. He also said the legislation isn’t clear about when the cameras will actually be on.

“I appreciate my colleague’s comment that cameras are only going to be on while workers are there, because we’ve all come across work zones and it’s obvious nobody’s working there and sometimes people don’t slow down when it’s obvious there’s no one there,” Goodell said. “But there’s nothing in the language that limits the applicability to when there are workers. And while it says there’s supposed to be a self-verification of the camera there is no right in this bill for the owner to have the camera independently inspected. Hopefully there will be warning signs. The last thing that’s kind of interesting about this is it says the speed camera has to be set at 10 miles over the speed zone. So think about that for a minute — you’re driving at 65, there’s a speed zone at 55, you don’t have to slow down at all under this bill. It seems kind of counterintuitive.”

Supporters of the legislation say state Transportation Department statistics show from 2010 to 2016 there were 3,450 accidents in work zones on state highways that resulted in 50 fatalities and more than 1,100 injuries to motorists and workers. They also pointed to World Health Organization statistics showing for every increase in speed of 6 miles per hour, the likelihood of an accident involving injury increased by 20%.

“I just want to say this — statistics show that since 2018 alone there were 701 crashes in work zones on state roads and bridges resulting in 13 motorist fatalities, 329 injuries to motorists, contractor employees and New York state Department of Transportation staff,” said Assemblyman William Magnarelli, D-Syracuse. “This pilot program is simply intended to improve everyone’s safety in work zones.”

Goodell also pointed to the state’s checkered history with speed camera demonstration projects. A New York City program was required to have reports submitted, but Goodell said the required reports have never been sent. He also pointed to the difficulties in Buffalo, where Buffalo’s Common Council wants to replace cameras with radar speed signs and install speed bumps in school zones, change the school speed zone limit from 15 to 20 miles an hour and require the city to place “school” pavement markings and crosswalks by schools. According to a recent Buffalo News article, the speed camera program has been criticized for its poor roll out and execution while some have also complained that the program targets the city’s most impoverished residents by placing many of the cameras in high-poverty, minority neighborhoods. A lawsuit has also been filed saying Buffalo’s program violates due process guarantees, arguing the state law authorizing the city’s speed cameras may violate the state constitution.

“It seems we ought to pause and redesign the demonstration program to address the issues that were raised,” Goodell said. “Instead this legislation uses the exact same language as currently being challenged in court in Buffalo that resulted in the Buffalo Common Council terminating the whole program due to the outrage from the public over how it was handled. We should learn from the demonstration programs and improve. It’s a simple thing to do. A simple thing to say the owner can avoid liability by establishing they weren’t driving. It’s a simple thing to do to say the owner has simple due process. It’s a simple thing to do to say if the owner wants to have the camera examined at their expense to see if its accurate by a third party they should have that right. It’s a simple thing to include in the bill that the speed cameras will only be operated when people are there. Unfortunately those changes haven’t been made. Unfortunately I would recommend to my colleagues that we change the demonstration program to learn from prior demonstration programs so we don’t repeat the same problems.”

Assemblywoman Deborah Glick, D-New York City, defended the proposed camera program and said motorists should consider themselves lucky to receive a ticket from a speed zone camera rather than from a police officer.

“For those of you who like to speed, you’re actually better off being tagged by a camera than law enforcement, because with a camera you just pay the fine,” Glick said. “You don’t get points on your license because it doesn’t identify the person who is driving. Plus, we cannot have police all over. This is about saving lives of people who are working in construction zones along the highway. And it actually gives you some leeway that you could be going faster than the speed limit, which is in my opinion terrible, but at least this is some measure of trying to ensure that people who are working on our behalf are minimally safer in these work zones.”

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