Tuesday, April 6, 2021
Heads up, drivers in Fairfax City – photo speed cameras are headed your way. The Virginia General Assembly and Gov. Northam recently enacted legislation granting limited photo speed enforcement authority to Virginia localities.
It was also part of the City’s 2020 legislative program and, following a work-session discussion and a public hearing, City Council approved it for use here. City attorney Brian Lubkeman explained where and when it applies.
“It’s limited to school-crossing and work zones, and only while they’re active,” he said. “City police officers will review each photo, and the penalty is a civil fine. And the records and photos are eventually destroyed.”
Fairfax City staff has worked with its existing, photo red-light vendor to obtain new equipment – a combination of fixed and portable speed-monitoring devices. In addition, it’s making upgrades to that current equipment, to be prepared in case the scope of permitted photo speed-camera enforcement expands in the future.
Present plans include four fixed-post speed cameras – one is already an existing, photo red-light camera at Main Street/Pickett Road – to cover Woodson High’s school zone on Main Street and Fairfax High’s school zone on Fairfax Boulevard.
There’ll also be five, portable, control units available to cover the Old Lee Highway school zones and the school zones on Jermantown Road. When needed, these units may be deployed to provide traffic enforcement in highway work zones. And the City will comply with legal requirements pertaining to signage and limitations on enforcement.
THE CAMERAS are in the process of being installed; and as with the photo red-light program, the City will undertake a public-information campaign prior to enforcing violations under this program. Only warning citations will be issued during a 30-day implementation period.
The enabling authority permits fines up to $100 and states that citations may be issued once a vehicle is exceeding the applicable, active school zone or active work zone speed limit by at least 10 mph. City staff proposes a graduated, civil= penalty, fee structure beginning at 12 mph over the posted speed limit.
“We looked at high-traffic areas, and this is a safety-structured program,” said Fairfax Police Capt. Craig Buckley. “We’d like two cameras in each direction at both Fairfax and Woodson high schools.” He said a 25-mph speed limit is in effect in school zones, 45 minutes in the mornings, during student arrivals, and 45 minutes in the afternoons, when they leave. And warning signs are posted 1,000 feet before each school.
“Would this extend to after-school hours, as well, or just regular school hours?” asked Councilmember Janice Miller.
“Just the 45 minutes in the morning and afternoon – 30 minutes prior to the bell and 15 minutes after the bell, in the morning, and the reverse in the afternoon,” said Buckley. “Just when the 25-mph lights are flashing.”
“If I loaned my car to someone who’s caught at a red-light camera, and gets a ticket, what happens?” asked Councilmember Tom Ross.
“You can contact us and let us know you’re not the driver, and we’ll void that summons for you,” answered Buckley. “But if you can provide the driver’s information, we’ll send it to him.”
“Is speeding the leading cause of pedestrian crashes in the City?” asked Councilmember Sang Yi. Buckley replied, no, that pedestrians struck by vehicles are usually the result of driver inattention.
“My biggest concern is how speed cameras will solve that problem,” said Yi. “I want facts that’ll prove to me that a speed camera will help.” He also requested an estimate of how much revenue these new cameras will raise for the City.
“I’d estimate $140,000 to $200,000/year, because I know I can’t put an officer at every school crossing,” said Buckley.
Councilmember So Lim asked if the data could be used for anything else. “The data collected by the cameras can’t be used for anything but speed violations,” answered Buckley. “Nothing else, like reckless driving or expired, license-registration tags. And the data is destroyed, 60 days after the fine is paid, so there are some privacy safeguards.”
“I’m not a fan of cameras,” said Councilmember Jon Stehle. “But they can [change people’s driving behavior] for the better.”
Buckley said the new cameras will also tell City police the number of cars going through a specific area, as well as the times when their drivers are more likely to violate the speed limit. Councilmember Joe Harmon then asked how much more effective speed cameras are than digital signs telling drivers how fast they’re going.
“Eventually, people realize there’s no penalty attached to the mobile digital speed signs,” replied Buckley. “With cameras, you have a means of enforcement and compliance. And unlike officers [stationed at a particular place], they’re not getting called away to go cover a crash. The cameras are there all the time, rain or shine.”
Fairfax Mayor David Meyer stressed that the goal of these cameras is improved safety, not revenue generation. “Before we activated our red-light cameras, we had many, many speeding incidents and accidents at red lights – especially at Fairfax Circle,” he said.
“And we have hard data to show that these cameras have reduced the incidences of accidents at red lights and enhanced pedestrian safety. They also reduce the amount of calls to police and EMS [personnel]. And there’s a flagrant, disregard of workers in highway work zones in Virginia.”
Yi asked if the City has conducted any analyses of the accuracy of the equipment used by the vendor it’s chosen for this program. “No, but the camera heads and equipment are regularly checked for constancy and accuracy,” said Buckley. “And it’s the same technology we use for our red-light cameras.”
Still, Yi worried that this technology will be used, more and more. And, he added, “I hope we start getting information on [school- and work-zone safety], before and after these cameras go in.”
FAIRFAX POLICE CHIEF Erin Schaible said Montgomery County has used these cameras for years, and “It’s reduced speeds in those zones by 59 percent.”
“I think that, once people have gotten a ticket, it’ll encourage them to drive more safely,” said Meyer. Miller then made a motion for approval, with Stehle seconding.
The vote was 4-2, in favor of using the new cameras, with Yi and Harmon voting no. Said Miller: “I believe that, when people drive through school-crossing and work zones and see the cameras, they’ll change their behavior, slow down and observe the speed limit.”