Speed Cameras in School Zones

Speed cameras went live in ten Atlanta Public School (APS) zones this week. Drivers who exceed the speed limit in these zones by 10 mph or more while the sign’s beacons are flashing will receive a ticket. 

Image credit: Atlanta Public Schools

The goal of the new cameras is to create safer transportation for thousands of children, parents, teachers, and staff who walk, bike, or roll to and from school each day. Unfortunately, it's not that simple – there is also mounting evidence that speed cameras can perpetuate harm.

An incomplete solution

Advocates across the U.S. are raising critical questions about the effectiveness of speed cameras and potential unintended consequences of their use. 

While school zone cameras may be a first step to help to reduce dangerous speeding, they are not a complete or permanent solution. If drivers frequently speed down a street, it’s likely that features like wide lanes and long distances between intersections encourage that behavior. 

That’s why the most proven way to reach the ultimate goal of safer streets for everyone is safer street design. 

Speed cameras have the potential to reduce community interactions with armed police, but equity advocates have raised concerns, noting that dangerous street designs tend to be concentrated in Black and brown neighborhoods. They warn that revenues from speed cameras could disincentivize cities from making streets safer and less attractive to speeding, thus perpetuating disparities and increased economic burden. 

An investigation by ProPublica revealed alarming disparities in speed camera citations, with Chicago residents living in majority-Black zip codes receiving speed camera citations at more than twice the rate of households in majority-white zip codes. In Atlanta, it’s worth noting that our neighborhoods with more miles of High Injury Network streets have a larger share of Black residents.

These findings have contributed to a decreased consensus among safety experts and advocates regarding the use of speed cameras as a reliable solution, as discussed on a recent Strong Towns podcast

Google map:  Speed Cameras in 10 APS School Zones

Shifting Perspective

In 2018, several advocacy groups, including the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition, PEDs, and Georgia Bikes, successfully lobbied to change Georgia state law to permit speed cameras in school zones. (Read more about that advocacy history here.) By 2021, about 40 Georgia counties and cities had moved to install speed cameras, including metro Atlanta’s Gwinnett, Henry, and Clayton counties, according to the AJC.

However, as awareness grows about the potential harm of relying on speed cameras, a shift in perspective is underway. Speed cameras are not a catchall solution. Instead, the primary focus should be on safe street design, addressing the root causes of speeding behavior.

In alignment with our commitment to social and racial justice, Propel ATL’s 2021 policy agenda called for transparency and accountability for the speed camera program.

What does transparency and accountability look like?

  • The City of Atlanta must maintain a consistent focus on creating safer street design. 
  • The City of Atlanta should allocate all revenue from speeding tickets towards building safer streets (currently part of revenue is earmarked for a nebulous APS school safety and security fund and part to Atlanta Police Department).
  • The results of speed cameras must be assessed to determine if they are effective at reducing crashes that lead to death our serious injury throughout Atlanta.
  • Atlanta Public Schools and the Atlanta Police Department should share anonymized data with researchers and the public, to ensure accountability and inform safer street design.

The introduction of speed cameras in school zones in Atlanta is a positive step towards enhancing safety for students and pedestrians. However, it's crucial to recognize that speed cameras alone cannot address the broader issue of unsafe street designs and disparities. Moving forward, focusing on safe street design will be essential, both in creating safer streets for everyone and in reducing disparities in crashes and enforcement. Transparency and data sharing will play a pivotal role in achieving these goals, fostering a safer and more equitable urban environment.