Mayor LaToya Cantrell was unapologetic today as she defended her decision to lower the threshold for triggering a ticket from traffic cameras in school zones. Cantrell addressed the City Council Budget Committee on Monday morning, in a rare, in-person appearance.
Until Feb. 4 of this year, the city had a publicly-announced policy that the threshold for traffic camera tickets in school zones (which have a posted speed limit of 20 mph) would be 26 mph. However, the policy was changed to lower the threshold to 24 mph without first warning the public. That resulted in thousands of drivers being ticketed over a two-month period without warning.
“That is a policy decision I absolutely stand by and one that is making these school zones safer for our people,” Cantrell said.
While the change has drawn ire from many residents, others have argued that the speed limit in school zones should be more strictly enforced. Many residents view the speed cameras as an excellent way to make drivers slow down.
“I tell you if I could have gone to zero, I would have done so.”
According to Mayor Cantrell, the city attorney advised her that 4 mph over the posted limit is as low as the threshold can be set without raising questions about calibration of the cameras.
Those are the kinds of questions that have plagued other cities. For example, in Baltimore, Maryland, a report released in January of 2018 found that the city’s speed cameras had an error rate of at least 2.9 percent. That may sound low, but it resulted in over 24,000 erroneous tickets in a 10-month period.
However, on Monday, the main focus on the discussion wasn’t about whether the cameras are accurate; it was about the fact that the public wasn’t notified of the change.
Budget Committee chairman Councilman Jared Brossett said that “If [the change] would have been announced, drivers could have changed their driving patterns.
Cantrell countered, saying that she didn’t want to encourage people to break the law. “What I made very clear by not disclosing is it is unacceptable to speed in the school zones in New Orleans,” she later added.
After the Mayor’s statements, councilmembers took to questioning New Orleans Chief Administrative Officer Gilbert Montaño about the decision. Montaño refused to answer directly, instead, putting the responsibility squarely back on Mayor Cantrell.
“The policy falls on those elected officials,” Montaño said.