By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Surgeons and local elected officials gathered at Bellevue Hospital last Thursday, urging the State Senate to pass legislation that would preserve speed cameras around schools.
Speed cameras in 120 school zones lost their ability to issue speeding violations last month because the State Senate did not extend the program by the July 25th deadline. Advocates at Bellevue were pushing Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan to call a special session so Senators could vote on legislation that has already passed in the Assembly, where it was sponsored by Assemblymember Deborah Glick.
Glick’s bill in the Assembly allows for speed cameras in 50 additional school zones a year for the next three years and extends the program through 2022. Democrats had originally proposed expanding the program to 750 school zones but said they reduced the number to appease Republicans.
“We reduced the number of cameras and reduced the radius the cameras cover,” Glick said. “We added signage so people know that there are cameras. We’ve given so much deference to speeders. We could give at least a modicum of the same concern for school children.”
State Senator Brad Hoylman expressed frustration that his own chamber had held up the vote, saying that Republicans as well as breakaway Democrats are preventing the bill from passing because they don’t want to inconvenience drivers.
“They want to use the issue as leverage for unrelated issues, like one of the Senate members who wants to put armed guards in schools, and they won’t support speed cameras without getting support for that,” Hoylman said, referencing a bill proposed by Brooklyn Senator Simcha Felder, a Democrat who has been consistently voting with Republicans.
Flanagan, in turn, blamed the Democrats for the bill’s stagnation in an editorial for the New York Daily News last Tuesday, July 31. Flanagan claimed that Senate Republicans are willing to extend the speed camera program but are not willing to sign off on expanding the program until they can “discuss the issue with all stakeholders.”
He argued that Senate Democrats were holding up the bill by refusing to agree to just an extension of the program.
“Instead, they passed a bill authorizing more cameras and widening their range, while posturing for news cameras, creating the ultimate Albany wreckage scene for their campaign purposes,” Flanagan said in the piece.
Doctors and advocates for the legislation argued at Bellevue that speed plays a significant factor in the severity of injuries that result from car accidents.
“(Republicans) need to get over their obsession with automobiles and look at the data showing speed cameras and lowering speeding can reduce serious injuries and deaths,” Hoylman said. “And we’re talking about protecting children. It’s the most awesome responsibility we have as public officials.”
Dr. Marko Bukur, medical director of the surgical ICU at Bellevue, said that almost 20 percent of the more than 200 admissions annually for trauma are from car accidents.
“There’s no question that the rate of speed has an impact on the severity of injuries,” he said. “Survival rates drop when the vehicles have been speeding.”
District Attorneys for every borough except Staten Island also called for the renewal of the program last Tuesday, arguing that the cameras reduce speeding.
“Speed cameras must be activated before the first school bell rings next month,” Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance said. “Speed cameras reduce traffic fatalities through consistent, certain, and fair enforcement of speed limits. They are proven to reduce speeding, which is the main factor in 31 percent of traffic fatalities across the U.S. The Senate must reconvene and renew this program. Our children’s lives depend on it.”