Kent to use speed cameras to stop lead-footers near schools

KENT, Wash. - The city of Kent, which has shunned traffic cameras in the past, has reversed course and is installing its first cameras ever to maintain safety around two elementary schools.

Matt Maitland, the young father of a boy who attends one of those schools says he's thrilled with the addition since he said he sees lots of drivers speeding by the school.

Maitland takes no chances with his son's safety, walking him to Neely-O'Brien Elementary every day. The school is in a very densely populated area, surrounded with apartment buildings and condominiums. And it's not just perception that drivers have a lead food here.

Kent Police Chief Ken Thomas said they did a full speed study at several schools in the Kent School District and found some cars going more than double the speed limit.

"When the speed limit was 20 mph we had a car, at least a few cars going over 50 mph and one was going 58," Thomas said.

The speed study also found major offenders around Sunrise Elementary school.

Thomas said this data helped convince city leaders that something needed to be done. They chose to install school speed zone cameras at both Neely-O'Brien and Sunrise.

Thomas made it clear this is not designed as a revenue-generating project, but as a way to keep kids safe.

"When you deal with elementary age kids, they're just unpredictable and if you're not paying attention and then they walk out there's not much chance for that child," Thomas said.

Research proves it. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found about 5 perecent of pedestrians hit at 20 mph would die. But if you up the speed of the vehicle to 30 mph, the rate of death climbs to 40 percent. At 40 mph, it's 80 percent and nearly all pedestrians hit at 50 mph would die.

Liz Cross lives across the street from Neely-O'Brien where two of her children are in school and where she said she sees drivers speeding by.

"It's ridiculous we're happy we live here we're glad that it will slow them down," Cross said.

Now that the cameras are installed, Cross said she's noticed a few people slowing down and more likely will now that warnings are going out.

Drivers get a grace period for the next month, but when the kids return from winter break on Jan. 6, tickets start going out. The cameras snap a photo, Kent officers review it and then tickets are issued. Speeding up to 10 miles over the 20 mph hour limit will get you a $124 ticket. Above that, and it's a $248 ticket.

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