It is dangerous to speed through school zones, and it’s against the law. Speeders should be caught and penalized every time. It’s that simple.
So let’s congratulate Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez, R-Doral, and Tampa Bay’s own Rep. Traci Koster, R-Tampa, for sponsoring bills that would allow cameras in school zones to record cars traveling 10 mph or more over the speed limit. The owner of the car would face a $100 fine, but not a moving violation or points against their license.
This would be a solid step toward improving pedestrian safety in Florida, one of the most dangerous places to walk in the United States. Tampa Bay is the fourth-deadliest metro area for pedestrians in the nation, according to the most recent Dangerous by Design report by the advocacy group Smart Growth America. In fact, a pedestrian is far likelier to die in Tampa Bay than in New York City. Just two months into this year, at least nine pedestrians have died trying to cross the road in Pinellas County.
These bills — SB 588 and HB 657 — are just now wending their way through committee. They deserve the full support of the Legislature. Rodriguez sponsored a similar bill in the Senate last year where it sailed through committees before being withdrawn and dying without a floor vote in the Senate. No one should let that happen this year. “When we look at the data showing Florida at the bottom of the list when it comes to school zone safety, it’s clear something has to be done,” Koster told the Times Editorial Board by email.
This legislation is about protecting little kids, not promoting the interventions of big government. School zones are readily marked with signs, flashing lights and even orange traffic cones. They’re hard to miss. If nothing else, all of those other law-abiding drivers who have slowed down should offer yet another clue to the clueless speeding driver. Anyone blowing through a school zone either isn’t paying attention or doesn’t care. It doesn’t matter which is worse. The behavior deserves a $100 fine.
Here’s how it would work. First, the speed cameras would not be required at all schools. Local officials would decide where they are appropriate. Second, there wouldn’t be any fines for at least the first 30 days as a mandatory education program informs drivers about the new law. Third, in addition to all of the regular school zone markings, the law would require new signs that indicate cameras are in use.
The cameras would capture the license plate of any vehicle going more than 10 mph over the active school zone speed limit in the 30 minutes before the school day starts or the 30 minutes after it ends. A designated officer will review the photographs or video and decide whether to mail a $100 fine to the vehicle’s registered owner. During the school day itself — between the opening and closing bell when the 15 mph school zone is not in effect — the bill would still allow fines for those caught going more than 10 mph over the regular speed limit. The vehicle’s owner would have the right to review the photo or video and have ample chances to contest the fine, including requesting a hearing. The system is designed to be more than fair.
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The money collected would help to make walking to school safer. Of each $100 fine, the bulk would stay in the local school district to pay for safety measures: $60 for local public safety initiatives, including speed detection systems in school zones; $12 toward initiatives such as making it safer to walk to school; and $5 to recruit and retain crossing guards.
School speed zones are usually 15 mph — they are 20 mph only when the normal speed limit is 35 or higher. The zones don’t stretch very far, and they are in effect only the half hour before and after school or a regularly scheduled breakfast program. For drivers, school zones are a minor inconvenience, worth it for the safety of children. And remember, the cameras will catch only drivers who are excessively speeding through a school zone — at least 25 mph in a 15 mph zone. That is hardly a speed trap.
The Editorial Board will be writing more about pedestrian safety in the months ahead. But let’s start with a simple premise: If we can easily make school crossings safer for our children, we should. It’s hard to argue with that idea, and legislators would look good by looking out for the safety of children walking to school. Koster’s hopes for the proposed law are straightforward: “I expect this bill will lead to changed behavior among drivers.” The Legislature should listen to this voice of reason and slow down speeders in school zones. Our children deserve nothing less.
Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Conan Gallaty. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.