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A bill hoping to improve safety at school crosswalks dies in committee

Kt Ann
Flickr via CC BY 2.0

A bill that would have allowed video surveillance of school crosswalks to issue citations for drivers violating traffic laws in school zones was tabled on Jan. 26. Rep. Landon Brown (R-Cheyenne), chairman of the House Transportation, Highways and Military Affairs Committee, tabled the bill indefinitely after concerns over constitutionality, enforcement, and privacy issues were raised from other legislators and in public testimony. The committee committee members didn’t vote on it.

Sponsored by Rep. Bill Henderson (R-Cheyenne), the bill would have allowed for cameras to be placed on traffic control devices in marked school zones and would only operate on days when school is in session and between the hours of 7 a.m. and 4 p.m.

“To me, it's about adding another layer of safety support,” Henderson said. “They [WYDOT] [does] similar studies and analysis on where to put [devices such as] stop sign[s] that [control] control [the flow of traffic] that we have, where to put the streetlights, where to put what kind of marking[s]. We had bike lanes, those kind of things, so I think it's more about safety.”

Henderson said that students are the main concern when it comes to safety in school zones, but it also encompasses other crosswalk users as well.

“I think it's important to look constantly at ways to improve safety, particularly for our young people to and from school,” he said. “But remember, these pedestrians include everyone [not just school children] in the [crosswalk], including those in wheelchairs.”

Henderson said there have been several near misses and incidents in Cheyenne in recent years. This includes a fatal collision that happened in November 2021. He added that local stakeholders, law enforcement, and government entities, school districts and the public should all have a role in the rulemaking process. Some had about having nearby homes in camera shots and potential invasions of privacy. Henderson said there's a way to avoid that from happening.

Cheyenne Mayor Patrick Collins spoke in favor of the bill, saying it would assist the city’s law enforcement and help to protect crosswalks with a known history of issues.

“Every morning we send every [police] officer we have out to school zones [and] every afternoon, that's where they're located,” he said. “We have a lot more school zones than we have police officers. We have so many close calls [of] children getting hit, and we have the tragedy that you guys are aware of. The use of this technology, I believe it's like a force multiplier for our department allowing the officers to be there when they're not available actually in that location.”

But opponents of the bill questioned whether the information gathered from the proposed surveillance equipment would infringe on privacy and constitutional rights.

“There's a lot of other factors with the constitutionality, the right of due process, things that this body has talked about [and] has hit on, and I think we need to be very careful,” said Rep. Ben Hornok (R-Cheyenne).

Other critics of the bill questioned whether it would actually help prevent incidents and improve safety in school zones.

“Advocates for this bill argue it is for the safety of the children to just stop violations within the school zone crosswalks, but if this were truly about the safety of children, crosswalk guards would be in greater attendance, speed bumps and flashing lights would be installed and police officers would be there using the radar in these locations to ticket offenders more frequently,” said Cathy Ide, a Casper resident who opposed the bill. “Statistics show that driver and student distraction is a major contributor to crosswalk accidents, something that a video camera cannot prevent.”

Ide also expressed concerns about what would happen with the information gathered by cameras focused on these locations.

The bill stipulated that if a driver were caught on camera committing a violation in a school zone or crosswalk, a $195 citation would be issued to them. This would also apply to the owner of the vehicle even if the driver was unknown. However, this wouldn’t have applied if the driver of the vehicle didn’t have permission from the vehicle’s owner to operate it or if ownership of the vehicle was transferred to another owner prior to the observed violation. Any photos or video recordings would’ve been deleted within one year of the date they were recorded or taken.

Hugh Cook is Wyoming Public Radio's Northeast Reporter, based in Gillette. A fourth-generation Northeast Wyoming native, Hugh joined Wyoming Public Media in October 2021 after studying and working abroad and in Washington, D.C. for the late Senator Mike Enzi.
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