Federal Way adds speed enforcement cameras near Panther Lake Elementary

The city is adding its third set of speed enforcement cameras in a school zone. A 30-day warning period for cameras near Panther Lake Elementary, 34424 1st Ave. S., starts Dec. 6. Full-fledged photo ticketing will begin Jan. 7. - Jacinda Howard, The Mirror
The city is adding its third set of speed enforcement cameras in a school zone. A 30-day warning period for cameras near Panther Lake Elementary, 34424 1st Ave. S., starts Dec. 6. Full-fledged photo ticketing will begin Jan. 7.
— image credit: Jacinda Howard, The Mirror

Federal Way drivers beware: The city is adding its third set of speed enforcement cameras in a school zone.

A 30-day warning period for cameras near Panther Lake Elementary, 34424 1st Ave. S., started Dec. 6. Full-fledged photo ticketing will begin Jan. 7. The cameras will operate in the morning hours when school is preparing to start, during school lunches and in the afternoon when students are leaving Panther Lake. The cameras will be active when the yellow lights at the school zone's entrance and exit are flashing, warning drivers to slow down to 20 mph.

"Our local photo enforcement program is targeted to specific locations to enhance safety and citizen compliance with traffic control devices," police chief Brian Wilson said in a prepared statement. "We are seeing positive results and are able to redirect our limited police officer resources to other areas of the city in need of law enforcement services."

Panther Lake

The Panther Lake area has a high volume of motorists and limited visibility. The school is surrounded by trees, and crosswalks are located near a bend in the road. Motorists are known to speed through the area. Flashing lights warn drivers to slow down, but many motorists don't obey, police Lt. Mark Bensen said.

"It's our highest school zone violation area," he said.

Panther Lake has an enrollment of 413 students. Of those, roughly 94 walk to and from school and about 200 are transported by their parents, spokeswoman Diane Turner said. The school looks favorably on the enforcement cameras and plans to make parents aware of them, Turner said.

"Any effort to keep our kids safe, not only while they're in school, but when they are on their way to school and from school really helps us," she said.

Parents dropping off kids at the school Monday morning had mixed reactions toward the cameras. Christy Babauta said she likes having the devices near the school and feels they help protect her child. She does not feel it's a privacy issue because the cameras only photograph violations of the law. Laura Martinez drives her child to Panther Lake Elementary and said she noticed the cameras placed outside the school. Martinez said she is in favor of them.

"Sometimes the cars go too fast," she said.

Another parent, Erin McCartney, said he sees the need for the cameras and has noticed speeding along 1st Avenue South.

"It's all day long. They are just flying through here," he said.

However, McCartney does not approve of the cameras. They are unconstitutional, he said.

"I'm against all traffic cameras," McCartney said.

School zone enforcement

In an effort to control the speeding and protect students, a traffic officer on a motorcycle is often stationed near Panther Lake during hours when children are walking to and from the school. Police hope the automated cameras will free up that officer to patrol other areas of the city, Bensen said.

"That's our goal, to have people slow down and voluntarily comply," he said.

The cameras have worked in other school zones, Bensen said. Saghalie Middle School got photo enforcement cameras along 21st Avenue Southwest last year. Cameras were also placed along Southwest 320th Street, near Twin Lakes Elementary, at that time. Panther Lake was chosen as a location for the devices, but they were not installed at the time because the school was to undergo construction.

Paying the price

The school zone cameras, which are owned by Arizona-based American Traffic Solutions (ATS), are triggered to take a photo of the license plate of vehicles traveling faster than 20 mph. The data is documented by ATS, which issues a ticket to the vehicle's registered owner. Federal Way police review the incident to make sure a violation took place before the ticket is sent to the vehicle's owner. The violation does not appear on a person's driving record.

School speed zone violations caught on camera are subject to a hefty fine. Drivers traveling 6 mph over the 20 mph speed limit will see a $210 ticket, according to Federal Way police. Ticket prices max out at $250 for motorists traveling 11 mph or more over the limit.

These prices are less than what would be issued by an actual officer. Drivers caught by a police officer traveling 6 mph over the speed limit in an active school zone are issued a $210 ticket. Those traveling 11-15 mph over the limit receive a $272 ticket, and motorists exceeding the school speed zone limit by 20 mph or more are subject to a $784 fine.

Motorists may pay their photo enforcement tickets in full, request a court hearing to contest or mitigate the violation, or file a declaration of non-responsibility, which is a claim that the registered owner of the vehicle was not the person driving at the time the vehicle was cited. A 12-second video of the offense may be seen online or at the Federal Way Municipal Court. If violators choose to contest or mitigate their ticket, they can do so before a Federal Way Municipal Court judge or by mail. Ticket payments are made to ATS, which passes the revenue on to the City of Federal Way.

Photo program

The red light photo enforcement program, which includes school zone speed cameras, has generated just under $1.3 million for the City of Federal Way this year, according to a November monthly financial report. The city expected to bring in $830,000 from the program in 2010.

Red light photo cameras were installed at South 320th Street and Pacific Highway South, and South 348th Street and Enchanted Parkway, in January 2008. Those cameras began issuing tickets in September 2009. More cameras were placed at South 312th Street and Pacific Highway South that same year. The Federal Way City Council voted this past July to extend its contract with ATS into 2013.

Click here to read a Mirror report on photo enforcement in Federal Way.

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