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Fairfax County’s speed camera pilot hits bump due to malfunctioning flashing lights

A speed camera on Kirby Road outside Chesterbrook Elementary School (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Some broken lights have unexpected challenges for Fairfax County’s speed camera pilot program, which appears to be having an effect on drivers, based on early data.

For about a week in mid-July, the Winko-Matics — flashing lights that signal when a school zone is in effect — failed to turn on at three of the eight sites involved in the pilot, according to the Fairfax County Police Department.

As a result, the cameras at Irving Middle School in West Springfield and London Towne Elementary School in Centreville stopped issuing citations, the police department announced on Aug. 16. The lights for both school zones ceased functioning correctly on July 17 to July 28.

In an Aug. 21 update, the department reported that the Winko-Matics on Franconia Road for Key Middle School in Springfield also encountered issues during that time frame.

“The cameras correctly issued citations during summer school operations, but the Winko-Matics did not function properly,” the FCPD said, stating that any citations issued while the lights were broken will be voided or reimbursed.

As of last Thursday (Aug. 24), the department’s vendor was still conducting a review to determine exactly when the lights weren’t working, so it’ll take some time to figure out how many citations were affected, FCPD public information officer Sgt. Jacob Pearce told FFXnow.

The westbound camera on Franconia Road remains offline after construction work on a private property accidentally severed an electrical connection, but the other cameras and Winko-Matics are now functioning properly, according to Pearce.

Despite those technical issues, speed surveys conducted before and during the pilot suggest the new cameras have been effective at slowing down drivers, according to FCPD Sgt. Ian Yost.

Average speeds decreased between last fall and this past May at all but one of the six evaluated sites — London Towne, Irving, Key, South County High School, and Chesterbrook Elementary School.

The only outlier was northbound Soapstone Drive near Terraset Elementary School in Reston, which saw a 3% uptick to 24.4 mph, but the average speed recorded before the pilot (23.8 mph) was already below Virginia’s 25-mph speed limit for school zones.

Prior to getting the photo speed cameras, the other schools were all seeing average speeds over 30 mph, led by nearly 37 mph on southbound Stone Road near London Towne. In May, speeds dropped to 24-28 mph, with South County seeing the biggest change at 37%.

“The speed cameras is just a piece of the puzzle, but it does help as our…data did show that it did have an effect in slowing down speeds of drivers in and around schools,” Yost said. “So, I do think it does fit with our overall idea and implementation of traffic safety here in Fairfax County.”

As of last Wednesday (Aug. 23), the speed camera program has produced 13,762 citations since it started issuing them on April 10, resulting in $343,641 collected from fines, according to the FCPD.

Key Middle School has seen the most citations, because it has cameras covering both eastbound and westbound lanes, whereas the other locations just have cameras facing one direction, police said.

Throughout the pilot, police have been conducting other traffic safety efforts, including a countywide “Road Shark” campaign aimed at cracking down on aggressive driving and targeted enforcement on Fairfax County Parkway and Burke Centre Parkway.

During the “Road Shark” campaign, which unfolded over four separate weeks starting in March, police issued nearly 25,000 citations and warnings — more than 1,300 of them for reckless driving, the FCPD reported on Aug. 9.

“We are taking seriously and focused on not only enforcing traffic [safety], but also the education portion of it too, to let our drivers know we just want them to drive safer,” Yost said.

Approved by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors in December, the pilot is expected to expand to as many as 50 locations this fiscal year, which lasts until June 30, 2024, but an exact timeline for the rollout is still in flux.

According to Yost, the FCPD has been working with Fairfax County Public Schools to identify 40 more locations. The county has previously said that Oakton High School, which saw two students killed by an allegedly speeding driver on June 7, 2022, is a candidate.

Yost says the department collaborates with FCPS on appropriate camera locations, since school officials are more familiar with the traffic and pedestrian patterns in their areas.

“Ideally, we would like to spread them out throughout the county, make sure they’re not concentrated in one section, target busier roads with higher speed limits, so something on a busier road versus a school that’s tucked away into a neighborhood,” he said. “Those are really some of the factors that we look at, and also just taking to effect any known problems that we might need to address, we can adjust and put the cameras at those schools.”

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