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Now that the Los Angeles Unified School District and campuses throughout California are starting to resume in-person instruction, a lot of children will also resume walking and bicycling to class. As Spectrum News 1 noted, this presents a potential risk for student safety, given that many drivers have been taking advantage of less-traveled roadways and speeding.
That’s why a new bill going before the California legislature’s transportation committee is hoping to make a difference. SB 735 would allow speed safety cameras near schools to slow drivers’ speeds in an effort to increase the safety of children, pedestrians, and cyclists — the most vulnerable road users in Los Angeles, like in much of the state.
A well-known safety hazard, speeding contributes to 26% of all traffic fatalities, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In California, 893 pedestrians were killed on state roadways and 14,000 were injured in 2018.
State Sen. Susan Rubio, who introduced the bill in Feb., reportedly said: “I’ve heard from so many families that lost loved ones in collisions, so this is really something that I think we need to move forward.” Rubio, who was a public school teacher for 17 years before being elected to the California State Senate in 2018, said SB 735 was inspired by her earliest days as a teacher when part of her job was taking care of morning traffic around the school. She said she saw many near collisions, which vividly stayed with her.
Safe Kids Worldwide, a nonprofit research and legislative advocacy group, reported a 13% increase in pedestrian deaths for 12- to 19-year-olds since 2013. Lawmakers have said the areas around schools are vulnerable to traffic deaths and injuries because of the high number of children, pedestrians, and vehicles in the same area at the same time.
Under California Vehicle Code Section 22352, speed limits in school zones are 25 miles per hour while the grounds are being used, but studies have shown that two-thirds of drivers exceed the posted speed limit in a school zone during the 30-minute period before and after school.
In Oct. 2019, a pre-schooler named Alessa Fajardo was killed by a driver in Koreatown while crossing with the light in a crosswalk, holding her mother’s hand. The intersection where she died is within a project zone that’s slated for safety improvements through LADOT’s Safe Routes to School (SRTS) program. Alessa died on her way to school.
The woman who killed Alessa, Indira Marrero, was not arrested. Police at the time said she cooperated with the investigation and was allowed to leave the scene unscathed. She was eventually charged with vehicular manslaughter without gross negligence and driving without a license, both misdemeanors. Marrero didn’t end up showing up for her arraignment in Nov. of last year, and a warrant was issued for her arrest. As of Jan. 2021, she had not been arrested.
SB 735 seeks to slow speeds in school zones with the use of speed safety cameras. These would only be allowed in school zones during school hours and for sports and other activities taking place in a school setting, according to Rubio. Funds raised for any citations issued as a result of the speed safety cameras would go “back to education in terms of street safety.” In addition, there are equity provisions so low-income violators could pay a reduced amount or defer payments or perform community service in lieu of a fine.
SB 735 requires that speed safety cameras only be used to enforce speeding violations and will be set up to solely scan license plates. Facial recognition software is not allowed, hence it will not scan faces. SB 735 also requires that all captured photos and video be stored only as long as necessary for the enforcement of the violation.
Speed safety cameras have been proved effective in other cities where, unlike California, they’re allowed. Sen. Rubio said that speeding in school zones was reduced 63% in New York City and almost 50% in Seattle after speed safety cameras were introduced.