No tickets in school zones if lights aren't functioning

A new ordinance requires flashing yellow school zone lights need to be functioning properly before a camera ticket can be issued

Flashing yellow school zone lights must be working properly in order to issue camera tickets, an ordinance passed by the New Orleans City Council this month requires. 

The lights — and their infamously inconsistent functionality — have long been a source of frustration in the city. The Lens first conducted a survey of the lights in 2015 and found fewer than half were functioning properly. In 2017, we found more than 80 percent were working properly.

Councilman Joe Giarrusso, who introduced the ordinance, called it a “common sense ordinance” if the city wanted to continue collecting ticket revenue in school zones.

“The existing policy allows school zone signage to follow minimal requirements, which do not require flashing beacons during school hours, and school zone violation tickets are issued regardless of the operability of the flashing beacons,” the council said in a release. “This lack of continuity in the usage of school zone beacons endangers students, school staff, pedestrians, and motorists alike.”

The previous mayoral administration said in 2013 it didn’t issue tickets if the lights weren’t functioning properly, but that wasn’t written into policy until now. A spokesman for Mayor LaToya Cantrell said the city doesn’t have real-time information on which lights are working properly.

Reduced speeds in school zones are enforced for two hours each morning and afternoon on school days. School zone speed limits are only enforceable on days school is in session.

The new requirement has the potential to impact the city’s bottom line if it significantly reduces the number of tickets issued. 

Asked how the city would adjust to the new requirement without the real-time status of each light, spokesman John Lawson responded on behalf of the Department of Public Works. 

“In most cases, the school flasher is in view of the camera and can be seen in the video accompanying the violation,” he wrote. 

But that isn’t true in all cases and it’s unclear what would happen in that scenario. 

In 2019, the administration lowered the threshold to issue tickets from 26 miles per hour to 24 without publicly announcing the change first. 

Lawson said the department checks the lights before each school year.

“The City programs all flashers for the year when the school year starts,” he wrote. “Individual sites are revisited when complaints are received.”

“DPW is aware of 13 flashers that are not currently working, as well as another two that have been knocked down and must be replaced,” Lawson wrote. 

Marta Jewson

Marta Jewson covers education in New Orleans for The Lens. She began her reporting career covering charter schools for The Lens and helped found the hyperlocal news site Mid-City Messenger. Jewson returned...