In summary

State Sen. Susan Rubio: My bill, SB 735, authorizes local jurisdictions to utilize safety cameras to enforce speed limits in school zones.

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By Susan Rubio, Special to CalMatters

State Sen. Susan Rubio, a Democrat from Baldwin Park, represents the 22nd Senate District, senator.rubio@senate.ca.gov.

In the fall of 2019, in five separate incidents, Alameda residents saw five school children hit by vehicles in the course of a few months. The children were all walking in close proximity to their schools. In 2020, Oakland city data exposed a growing trend in traffic related fatalities, with 33 people being killed compared to 27 the previous year.

The peril to children walking to school is part of a dangerous national trend that is impacting every community. In my own district last year, Roberto Heredia, 56, was fatally struck by a SUV as he walked in El Monte. In April 2020, another pedestrian died in Alhambra while crossing the street. A third pedestrian, reportedly homeless, was killed in Baldwin Park in November 2020.

Conventional wisdom has it that over the last year, as California and the nation battled a health pandemic of incredible proportion and was mostly under stay-at-home orders, fewer cars on our streets would equate to exponentially fewer traffic crashes.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t what the data showed. 

According to a study by UC Berkeley professor Offer Grembek, co-director of the university’s Safe Transportation Research & Education Center, there was a drop in the rate of minor injury vehicle crashes in the state through the first half of 2020. However, the rate of fatal or considered severe traffic crashes went up by 15%.

Trends show that speed and a growing number of pedestrians on our roadways are leading factors in not just vehicle-to-vehicle crashes but crashes involving men, women and children on foot.

Of crucial concern to me is the impact these numbers may have on our most vulnerable areas, like school zones.

Thankfully, California is beginning to open back up. It’s been a long 12 months. 

As a public-school teacher for 17 years, I want to see our schools reopen and more precisely, reopen safely. As a state senator, this year I introduced a bill that will help enhance the safety of children and pedestrians by allowing the use of speed safety cameras in school zones to reduce the number of speeding drivers near where children are walking and biking.

Our teachers and kids should feel secure, both in the classroom, as they take every precaution to slow the spread of COVID-19, and also as they travel to and from campus.

As school campuses reopen, the modes of transportation utilized by students may change. In order to properly physically distance, more students may find themselves walking to school or riding their bikes longer distances than previously. My bill, Senate Bill 735, authorizes local jurisdictions to utilize speed safety cameras to enforce speed limits in school zones in a way that is done equitably and will protect the privacy rights of Californians. 

In 2018, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration identified speeding as a contributing factor in 26% of all traffic fatalities. School zones are particularly susceptible areas for traffic injuries and fatalities; a study by Safe Kids Worldwide found that there has been a 13% increase in the pedestrian death rate for 12-19 year olds since 2013. 

And these numbers are pre-pandemic.

Speed safety cameras are a proven technology that have changed behavior and saved lives in communities throughout the country. In jurisdictions such as New York City and Seattle, for example, speeding in school zones has been reduced 63% and nearly 50%, respectively, after speed safety cameras were installed. In the city of Mesa, Ariz., the School Zone Speed Safety Program saw a 36% reduction in serious injury collisions from 2007-13.

Workers and parents are gradually returning to their customary heavily scheduled lifestyle, and more and more students will once again be returning to on-campus instruction. I do not want to see an increase in reckless speed-related, pedestrian deaths. Conversely, I want to provide our cities and counties with the tools they need to keep our kids safer than ever.

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State Sen. Susan Rubio has also written about legislation that would expand protections for survivors of domestic violence.

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