Debate over school zone speed cameras in Chatham County

Published: Oct. 13, 2021 at 2:59 PM EDT
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - Speed cameras near schools. They’re popping-up more frequently. We’ve heard complaints from some people across our area who feel the decision to install such cameras is less about protecting kids, and more of a money-grab.

But neighbors and police insist the cameras are effective, and long overdue.

About a dozen new cameras were just activated near five schools in Chatham County, as well as in Effingham County. We wanted to find out how big of a problem speeding is in those areas, and whether the cameras are making people slow down.

There are four new areas you’ll get a ticket if you speed during certain times in Chatham County. Multiple new speed cameras are now active near:

  • Georgetown Elementary School
  • May Howard Elementary School
  • Marshpoint Elementary School/Coastal Middle School
  • St. Andrew’s School

The cameras are active on school days. They start an hour before the first bell and run through the entire school day, turning off one hour after the final bell. They take down your plates if you go more than 10 miles over the speed limit. The first fine is $100. Every ticket after that is $150.

“Even during the day, when we’re traveling through the school zone, they’re moving pretty quick!” said longtime resident Rick Schirtzinger. Schirtzinger has lived by Islands Middle School off Islands Expressway for more than 20 years. He feels the cameras are long overdue.

“Oh, the cameras are a great idea, yeah,” Schirtzinger said. “I think people need some incentive, if it has to be financial, to follow what the rules are.”

But not everyone agrees. We read through some comments on the Chatham County Police Department’s Facebook page.

“All of the signs are confusing,” one woman wrote.

“Most people have no idea what time the bells are,” someone else added.

It’s, “the most communist thing I’ve ever heard,” said another.

The biggest complaint we heard off-camera is that the cameras are not well marked.

Schirtzinger disagrees.

“It’s just for the school times, and they’ve got the flashing school zone lights. So, they pretty much got the indicators that they need to slow down to begin with,” he said.

The county did a speed study before installing the cameras. Over a five-day-period, it found out of 92,837 cars that drove by, 10,714 speed violations occurred. That’s about one out of every nine cars. Since being activated, the cameras caught one driver going 75 in a 35, and another going 57 in a 25.

Chatham County Police Chief Jeff Hadley said he knows the problem first-hand.

“Having kids that go to school at Islands High School and traveling in that area every morning taking my kids to school... anecdotally, I can tell you there’s a significant amount of speeding,” Hadley said.

Hadley said with the amount of foot and bike traffic in the area, the cameras had to be put in. And they don’t appear to be going away any time soon.

“No, they’re not going anywhere. We’re not going to remove them,” he added.

About a quarter of the money from each ticket collected goes to outside company Blue Line Solutions. The company describes itself as a police veteran-led speed enforcement technology provider. Chief Hadley points out that the company set up the cameras, so it did not cost taxpayers anything.

CCPD said it’s too early to tell how much money they will make off the cameras. They tell WTOC they plan to post the ticket data online, and that they put them up to keep people safe, not to make money.

Port Wentworth and Bloomingdale also installed speed cameras in their school zones. They report seeing an 84% and 76% drop in speed violations.

The Georgia legislature approved speed cameras for use within school zones in 2018. Money generated from tickets must be used for “Public Safety Purposes.” If you get one of these tickets, it does NOT carry any points on your license.

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