By David Skolnick, Vindy.com
YOUNGSTOWN–Motorists on city highways and in school zones apparently are getting the message to obey the speed limit – or at least to keep their speed to a reasonable level above the limit.
Between Sept. 4 and Friday, about 300 speeding citations were issued, down from about 700 during the prior seven days.
“They’ve slowed down considerably out there,” Police Chief Robin Lees. “We’re getting compliance, and people are slowing down.”
Lees said coverage by The Vindicator of the city’s use of speed guns likely played a factor in slowing down motorists.
Mayor John A. McNally – who recently spent 45 minutes a day Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday driving Interstate 680 – said, “Traffic is remarkably slower in the past few days. I see people slowing down, and that’s the goal.”
I-680 between South Avenue and Meridian Road, where the limit is 50 mph, is where the speed guns primarily are being used.
The hand-held radar guns with cameras take pictures of vehicles to catch speeders. Since the department began using radar guns Aug. 18, after a monthlong warning period, the focus also has been on state Route 711, which has a 55 mph speed limit, and in school zones.
The cameras also were used to a lesser extent in a 40 mph construction zone on the Himrod Expressway.
The new system allows police officers to point the radar guns at cars and have civil-fee citations issued rather than stopping speeders and giving them moving-violation tickets with a fine and points on their driving records.
The city issued 960 speeding tickets all of last year. The citations issued in the last two weeks exceeded that figure.
Lees had said Aug. 27 the department had issued about 1,000 citations since the system went live Aug. 18 after a 30-day warning period.
But that turned out to be incorrect.
Lt. William Ross, head of the police department’s traffic unit, said that was the total number of citations and warnings given to motorists.
Lees said Friday he didn’t realize the original numbers included warnings, but now said he was mistaken.
City officials tried Friday to contact Optotraffic of Lanham, Md., which is processing the tickets and keeping 35 percent of the fees, to get a breakdown of citations and warnings, but were unable to get that. The breakdown is expected early next week, city officials said.
Optotraffic mailed citations and warnings to 472 motorists this week. Of those 472, 340 were citations with the others being warnings.
Also, not every vehicle cited for speeding will receive citation notices, Ross said.
That’s because some of the photos taken won’t be clear enough to make out the license plate, and earlier photos were taken of oncoming traffic, so those without front license plates, such as motorcycles and Pennsylvania vehicles, can’t be traced, he said.
The data of the 472 citations and tickets provide insight into how much leeway police are giving speeders.
Along the I-680 stretch with the 50-mph limit, the slowest speed to get a citation was 62 mph with 74 mph being the fastest speed.
In school zones with 20-mph limits, the slowest speed to get a citation was 30 mph with 40 mph being the fastest.
Police also issued seven citations to those driving in a 40 mph construction zone on the Himrod Expressway. The slowest speed to get a citation was 51 mph with 53 mph being the fastest speed.
There are no data yet for those driving on state Route 711, one of the hot spots where police are using the radar guns.
Speeders face civil penalties – $100 for those driving up to 13 mph over the speed limit, $125 for 14 to 19 mph over the limit, and $150 for those driving at least 20 mph over the limit.
The city said it was using the cameras on I-680 and 711 because many accidents occur on those highways.
In recent years, there were more accidents and more-severe accidents on I-680 than on the Austintown section of Interstate 80, where there is more traffic, according to data compiled by the Eastgate Regional Council of Governments.
In 2012 and 2013 combined, there were 280 total accidents and 84 serious ones – including four fatalities – on I-680 compared with 176 total accidents and 52 serious ones with one fatality on I-80, the Eastgate data show.
For Route 711, there were 62 total accidents for 2012 and 2013 with 15 of them serious and no fatalities.
Meanwhile, the city recently started using the cameras on Cooper Street, an exit off I-680 on the city’s South Side. The speed limit there is 25 mph, but several motorists drive much faster, Lees and McNally said.
The mayor said the city wants to use the speed cameras soon in residential neighborhoods.
“We will be expanding based on residents’ complaints to areas where we have a definite [speeding] problem,” McNally said.
For now, police are focused on I-680, Lees said.
The city is discussing getting a fourth radar gun from Optotraffic that would allow them to use the three they have with more regularity, Ross said.
Police are using two and keeping one in reserve, but Ross said there have been a few times when all three were used.
McNally said the board of control, of which he is chairman, is expected Thursday to select a hearing officer to listen to appeals from those objecting to the citations.
Sometime in November is likely when the appeals officer will start to hear objections, McNally and Ross said.