It’s great news that speed cameras are now legal in Florida school zones | Editorial
It will soon be safer for students to walk to school, thanks to Gov. DeSantis and the Legislature.
Cameras may soon catch Floridians who excessively speed through school zones.
Cameras may soon catch Floridians who excessively speed through school zones. [ MELISSA NEWCOMB | ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published June 2|Updated June 2

In one week last year, 7,310 vehicles drove through the 20 mph school zone by Hillsborough’s Bloomingdale High School in the morning. Nearly all of them — 98% — were going more than 10 mph over the speed limit, according to data recorded by Blue Line Solutions, a traffic safety company founded by veteran law enforcement officers. That’s just one example of the dangers Tampa Bay students face walking to school. It’s ridiculous, and it must come to an end.

It just might, thanks to legislation signed this week by Gov. Ron DeSantis. In approving HB 657, the governor makes speed cameras legal in Florida for the first time by allowing their use in school zones. The owner of any vehicle caught by the camera exceeding the school speed limit by more than 10 mph can be fined $100.

The bill went to the governor with overwhelming support. In the House, it was a lopsided bipartisan vote of 95-6, including House Speaker Paul Renner. The Senate vote was 35-3, including Senate President Kathleen Passidomo. Kudos to Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez, R-Doral, and Tampa Bay’s own Rep. Traci Koster, R-Tampa, for sponsoring this legislation and making it safer for kids to cross the street.

It is high time. 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 through May 25 this year, 566 pedestrians have been hit and 52 have been killed in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties alone. It is time for this to stop. Speed cameras in school zones will help.

“As a mother of a school-age child, I was personally driven to sponsor legislation to empower communities to put programs in place aimed at reducing speeding in school zones,” Rep. Koster told the Times Editorial Board. “I was fortunate to have the support of my colleagues in the Legislature, and now I am grateful to Gov. Ron DeSantis for signing this bill into law and doing everything in his power to protect children from speeders during school hours, and during drop-off and pickup times. I am confident this law will cut down on speeding in these school zones and, in turn, reduce avoidable injuries and death.”

Here’s how speed cameras will work. Local officials will decide where they are appropriate but must pass an ordinance to allow them. There won’t be any fines for at least the first 30 days as a mandatory education program informs drivers about the new law. And in addition to all of the regular school zone markings, the law requires new signs that indicate cameras are in use.

The cameras will 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. The vehicle’s owner will have the right to review the photo or video and have ample chances to contest the fine, including requesting a hearing. The system will be more than fair.

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The money collected will help to make walking to school safer. Of each $100 fine, the bulk will 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 cameras won’t even catch all speeders, just drivers who are excessively speeding through a school zone — at least 26 mph in a 15 mph zone, or 31 in a 20 mph zone. That is not a speed trap.

Why speed cameras? Slowing down and looking out for children crossing the street is a matter of law and order, but there aren’t enough officers to police school zones. By doing the job automatically, speed cameras will free up police officers to solve crimes and make neighborhoods safer. By setting the school zone speed cameras at a reasonable threshold above the posted speed limit, they avoid the “gotcha” of fining drivers for slipping a bit above the speed limit. By requiring posted signs to warn of their presence, they also alert drivers to follow the posted limits — that is, to follow the law. For those who believe in law and order, it’s hard to argue against the logic; they reinforce law and order in a reasonable way to make streets safer for all.

Those who argue that speed cameras are too much like Big Brother should remember just how many cameras are already out there, from Ring doorbells, to ATMs, to cameras on our bridges and roads that report traffic information. They are nothing new, even on public roads. Really, the new law is more Mr. Rogers than Big Brother, given how many warning signs will alert the driver to camera enforcement. And it’s pretty hard to argue that driving 11 mph over the limit in a school zone does not deserve a fine. Aren’t our children worth at least that?

The law takes effect July 1. It has an interesting provision. The camera can, of course, enforce the school zone speed limit when it is in effect. But as long as the school day is in session, the cameras will also be allowed to capture speeders exceeding the regular speed limit by more than 10 mph. Take the example of Bloomingdale High, where the school zone speed limit is 20 mph and the regular limit is 45. A fine could be issued for going 31 mph when the school zone is in effect. But it could also cost $100 for speeding 56 mph or more during the rest of the school day. (In the Blue Line Solutions study, only 1.5% of drivers did that.) This could provide a test of concept for using cameras to slow down those who speed excessively on other roads as well.

Speed kills, and enforcement saves lives. Speed cameras will make it safer to walk to school. Congratulations to the governor and the Legislature for recognizing this realty.

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.