Local officials are intensifying their calls to expand the city’s speed camera program, amid a spike in reckless driving and traffic deaths across the five boroughs.
The automated enforcement program, which issues $50 fines to motorists traveling at least 10 miles over the speed limit, has been shown to significantly reduce reckless driving around New York City’s school zones. But under current state law, the roughly 2,000 cameras can only operate on weekdays between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.
As a result, the cameras are failing to deter late-night reckless drivers, a group that is fueling the recent uptick in road fatalities on city streets, according to transportation experts. At least 164 people have died in traffic crashes this year — the highest total since Mayor Bill de Blasio’s launched Vision Zero, his signature street safety initiative, in 2014.
In 2020, officials said, one third of all fatal crashes occurred in school zones at times that the cameras were required to be turned off.
The latest example came 4 a.m. on Sunday, when Shaquan Nelson was killed after crashing into a pole and flipping his car inside a school zone on Conduit Boulevard in Queens. Nelson, a 27-year-old Brooklyn resident, was traveling at a high rate of speed, according to police, and may have been drag-racing.
In a statement, Department of Transportation Commissioner Hank Gutman said that the nearby cameras were switched off at the time of the crash, “illustrat[ing] the need for an expansion of the city’s authority to operate its lifesaving school-zone speed cameras.”
Both Gutman and Mayor de Blasio have called on state lawmakers to pass legislation introduced by Brooklyn State Senator Andrew Gounardes, which would give the city authority to deploy the cameras 24 hours per day.
While that bill did not make it out of the Senate during the last legislative session, Gounardes said he was hopeful it would pass in the upcoming session, when lawmakers will once again have to reauthorize the speed camera program in its entirety.
“We’ve seen an increase in drag racing at night, but the cameras are powerless against it,” Gounardes said. “There’s a big vulnerability in terms of what safety and protection these cameras can offer.”
The question of whether Albany should retain oversight over the program has been a source of contention since the program launched more than seven years ago. After a Republican-controlled State Senate blocked the program’s renewal in 2018, lawmakers called on Governor Andrew Cuomo to relinquish control of the cameras to the city — a demand that Cuomo rejected.
When Democrats took back the State Senate the following year, they dramatically expanded the program to include 750 school zones, more than twice what the governor had proposed.
With Cuomo set to step down next week, his successor, Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, will soon take the helm of several major transportation and infrastructure projects. On Monday, Hochul drew ire in transportation circles for suggesting that she would need to evaluate whether or not to move forward with congestion pricing.
But, according to Gounardes, speed camera proponents have little cause to fear that the future governor might stand in the way of expanding the program.
“We’ve talked about the importance of street safety,” Gounardes said. “I was never left with the impression that she had concerns or qualms with speed camera enforcement.”
A spokesperson for Hochul declined to comment.