EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 27, 2009

Signs will record drivers' speed in school zone

By James A. Kimble

PELHAM — Two new signs can now track speeders in Pelham's school zone.

The signs have flashing lights and look like any other speed limit warnings seen near schools around the state. But the technology inside, much like a radar gun, went online yesterday and can now track drivers' speed and the time as they pass.

The information can be downloaded into a computer spreadsheet, giving police raw data on when to best target fast drivers.

The sign's radar captures speeds, averages of speeds per hour and vehicles per hour.

"For quite some time, we have been a little concerned with the school zone in our town," police Chief Joseph Roark said. "It's located on a fairly major north-to-south commuter road and there's no sidewalks. So it has been a bit of an uneasy feeling over there with speeding vehicles."

The signs replace two older ones that had been deteriorating. Roark said repairs would have cost about $4,100. So he proposed to school administrators that they put up the money it would have cost them to repair the signs toward the new ones.

The Police Department paid the balance of roughly $8,000 for the new signs.

"Hopefully, it will allow us to do more in an era of limited resources," Roark said. "If we are going to assign an officer to radar, we know when we will get the most efficient patrol. If it's from 8:45 to 9:15, then it's better than sending them there for two hours. We will be able to address the real acute speeders."

During school hours, the speed limit is set at 20 mph. If drivers pass the signs going faster than 30 mph then a flashing marquee warns them to slow down. All other times, the speed limit is 30 mph and drivers going faster than 45 mph will get a similar warning, Roark said.

The goal isn't so much to write tickets as it is to change driving habits of those who ignore the normal speed warnings.

Recent studies show the difference between driving 20 mph and 30 mph in a school zone can literally mean life or death in an accident with a pedestrian, the chief said.

"If you have a vehicle versus a pedestrian at 30 mph, the likelihood of death is 45 percent of time. At 20 mph, it's 5 percent of time," Roark said. "So right there, if you could get people to slow down, if we do have an incident there, we have better likelihood for survival."

Likewise, the slower speed of 20 mph allows drivers to make a full stop when a pedestrian is spotted 50 feet away, he said. That can't be done at 30 mph, he said.

The installation of the sign was done by Pelham electrician Don Sturtevant of D.E.M. Electric.


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