It has been nearly four years since the first red-light cameras made a debut at high-volume and dangerous intersections, primarily in western Suffolk County, with the closest installed in Manorville at the intersection of County Road 111 and the Long Island Expressway.
An offshoot of the county program—one that specifically targets speeders in school zones—is now in the works, and the first school zone speeding cameras are expected to be installed on the East End and elsewhere next summer, and be operational by the start of the 2015-16 school year.
Signed in June by Governor Andrew Cuomo, new state legislation sets aside funding so that each of the 69 school districts in Suffolk County can install one school zone speeding camera each. The devices will monitor speeds in school zones and automatically issue tickets to motorists who drive at least 10 mph over the posted limits.
The cameras will utilize radar detectors, like the ones currently in place in many school zones, to read if a driver is going too fast. If they are, a camera will snap a photo of the violating vehicle’s rear license plate, and a $50 ticket will be mailed to the driver.
Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman said he expects the new cameras to make their debut in Suffolk County in time for the start of the 2015-16 academic year next September. They have already been slowly rolled out throughout Nassau County, although some problems have had to be ironed out, because many people were unclear as to when the cameras would be operational.
“You can get a ticket anytime the school is open and has activities going on,” Mr. Schneiderman said, noting that they could be operational at night and on weekends, depending on when school-sponsored activities are taking place. “So, there could be an assembly at night,” he added. “There could be an after-school sporting event. It can be very confusing to people. We really have to work on how to best let people know.”
The cameras can be placed in school zones and on any village, town, county or state road. School districts, however, have the option of not participating in the program. Locally, the money raised through the collection of speeding fines will go to both Southampton and East Hampton towns. “They don’t see any revenue out of it,” Mr. Schneiderman said, referring to local school districts. “I would say, though, because it will effectively slow down traffic in front of the schools, I would think they want it.”
The legislator pointed to the Amagansett and Bridgehampton schools, both of which are on Montauk Highway, as locations where it would “make sense” to have the cameras installed.
Amagansett School Superintendent Eleanor Tritt said it was too early in the process to decide whether the district would want such a device, though Bridgehampton Superintendent Dr. Lois Favre said her district would be interested in trying one out. In 1998, a student at the school was killed after being struck by a car while attempting to cross Montauk Highway.
The district has also recently requested that the Southampton Town Police Department station a patrol car outside of the school to monitor the speed of passing motorists with a radar gun.
“Generally, what we see here is one of two things: bumper-to-bumper traffic barely moving, followed by spurts of rapidly moving traffic, which poses a danger for our students,” Dr. Favre said. “I’m not certain as to the affect the camera will have, but I believe we would be willing to use one to see if it did, in fact, make a difference.”
Mr. Schneiderman noted that in addition to slowing down drivers in school zones, the bulk of the revenues raised through the program will stay on the East End, with a small administrative fee going to the county. One of the drawbacks, though, is that seasonal visitors who visit only between Memorial Day and Labor Day might be unaware that local school zones are now equipped with the cameras, according to the legislator.
On a broader scale, Southampton Town has expressed a desire for speeding cameras in general. Town Police Lieutenant James Kiernan noted that speeding is a common problem, especially in school zones, and said that the installation of the cameras—which are expected to cost between $90,000 and $115,000 each—could help curb this particular issue.
“From a police standpoint … anytime you can gain compliance for the vehicle and traffic law, it’s a positive thing,” Lt. Kiernan said. “Anytime we can gain compliance with speed reduction, that’s what we would focus on.”
Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst agreed. “What we would like to see and have advocated for are the speeding cameras,” she said. “Given the choice, I would much prefer the speeding cameras over the red-light cameras.”
Revenues raised by the red-light cameras currently goes to Suffolk County.
But Mr. Schneiderman said he is unaware of any plans to roll out the red-light cameras on the East End. Earlier this year, the county installed one in Manorville, near the intersection of County Road 111 and the Long Island Expressway service road. It is the closest one to the South Fork. State legislation approved in 2010 approved 50 of the red-light cameras that, for the most part, are rotated throughout the most dangerous intersections in the county.
The chances of any of them making their way to Southampton or East Hampton towns are slim, however. For one, state officials only permitted that they be installed within the jurisdiction of the Suffolk County Police District, which includes the five western towns of the county—Huntington, Babylon, Smithtown, Islip and Brookhaven. Secondly, they can be installed only at the intersections of state and county roads.
The red-light cameras work similarly to the school speed zone ones—loop detectors are installed in the ground, and sensors are placed at the white stop lines. Each is wired to a cabinet that is mounted on the same pole as the camera. When a car approaches an intersection, a beam on the pole detects how fast the vehicle is going, and if a driver is breaking the law, the photo-taking process is initiated.
“What it’s saying is, ‘OK, they’re traveling too fast. They may not be able to stop,’” said Bill Hillman, the chief engineer at the Suffolk County Department of Public Works.
When a motorist passes the stop line after the light turns red, the camera takes a picture of a vehicle’s rear license plate, and then it takes a video of the vehicle in the intersection. The two pieces of evidence are then sent out to the motorist along with a ticket.
According to Mr. Schneiderman, the cameras are a considerable source of revenue for the county. In 2013, more than $19 million was generated from the tickets, which cost $80 a pop with administrative fees. The county estimates that the cameras will bring in about $30 million this year, as more cameras have been installed. An estimated 100 red-light cameras are expected in Suffolk County soon.
“If they put a red-light camera … I would want that revenue to go directly to the Southampton [and East Hampton police departments],” Mr. Schneiderman said, adding, “which means they’re probably not going to do it.”
He also noted: “Typically, they’re going to put them where the most volume is. And that’s not on the East End.”