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School zone safety program to expand

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Hays County has decided to expand the School Zone Speed Safety Camera Program that will work toward limiting speeding for the upcoming school year.

The program began July 15 at Scudder Primary in the Wimberley Independent School District. The program consists of vehicles equipped with radars and cameras to snap photos of the license plates of those speeding. The information is sent directly to the county, where they locate the owner of the vehicle and give them citations.

Initially, Hays County signed an agreement to have the program in two different county precincts, Wimberley and Dripping Springs, said Laureen Chernow, Hays County communications specialist.

During the pilot program, 71 warning tickets were given within a four-day period, Chernow said.

“I think that surprised everyone,” Chernow said. “We didn’t expect there to be that many school zone violators.”

Chernow said the amount of violators points to the need for the program in the Hays County area.

With the expansion of the program, vehicles will be deployed only to school zones that are outside of city limits, Chernow said.

There are two vehicles for the program, Chernow said. Both vehicles will be primarily deployed to Precincts 3 and 4, Chernow said.

Warning citations will be issued until Sept. 8 and then tickets will be given to school zone violators, Chernow said. Violators can be looking up to a $150 fine.

Although the program is expanding, it is still a pilot program, Chernow said.

“We are going to see how one semester goes,” Chernow said. “Then the same program will be reviewed by the commissioner’s court in two years.”

Although the program will not cost Hays County anything, American Traffic Solutions (ATS), the supplier of the fully equipped vehicles, plans on taking 75 percent of fines collected during the first year the program is in session, Chernow said.

Commissioner Ray Whisenant, Precinct 4, has been overseeing the project since the pilot program was launched in the summer. Whisenant was not available for a comment.

“This is an excellent way to increase our law enforcement presence without hiring additional personnel,” Chernow said.

Although the program is moving forward, Ken Strange, board president of Wimberley Independent School District, said he has been hearing mixed reviews regarding the public’s response to the program.

“Some people are happy about others having to slow down in traffic,” Strange said. “Other people are mostly frustrated—not because the car is there, but because a huge percent of the fine charge goes to a separate company.”

Chernow said that plans to expand the program outside of Precincts 3 and 4 has yet to be determined.

Follow Kasandra Garza on Twitter at @KasGarza.