Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Speed cameras to monitor Manatee County school zones

A county study showed 30 East County schools fell under the category of a "heightened safety risk" for pedestrians.

Cars line up on The Masters Avenue on Feb. 15 to pick up students at Robert Willis Elementary School.
Cars line up on The Masters Avenue on Feb. 15 to pick up students at Robert Willis Elementary School.
Photo by Lesley Dwyer
  • East County
  • News
  • Share

Five afternoons a week, Erin Brown waits at the Country Club East Park to pick up her kids from Robert Willis Elementary School. 

She drives through the school’s car line in the mornings. That’s usually when Brown sees people speeding through the 15 mph school zone.

“They’re probably racing to get here,” she said. 

Whether drivers are speeding to beat the school bell or to get to work on time, cameras will soon be watching and issuing tickets in front of Willis Elementary and several other Manatee County school zones.

After voting to remove red light cameras in October 2022, Manatee County commissioners unanimously approved the use of speed detection cameras in school zones at the Feb. 13 commission meeting. 

“I believe this to be entirely different,” Commissioner George Kruse said. 

Kruse called the former red light cameras a “poorly planned money grab” that were set up where the highest revenue could be generated versus intersections that caused the most traffic accidents and fatalities. 

He said locations for the speed detecting cameras were chosen based on which schools posed the most risks for children.

There are 65 public and charter schools in Manatee County; only 30 will have cameras installed. 

The move is in response to House Bill 657, which went into effect on July 1, 2023. There are specific guidelines the county must follow. 

The cameras can only be used in school zones during school hours, including the 30 minutes before and after. The location of the school has to meet a set of criteria that determines there to be a “heightened safety risk.”

Manatee County performed a traffic study in January. Each school zone was monitored for 12 hours in one day to determine where the most violations were occurring. 

Willis Elementary on The Masters Avenue, for example, showed 998 cars out of 4,763 were traveling at 11 miles or more over the posted speed limit during the study.

The red light cameras had carried a $158 fine. The new school zone speeding citations are limited to a $100 fine, and the driver will only be issued a ticket if they’re traveling more than 10 miles above the posted speed limit. 

During drop-off and pick-up, the speed limit in front of Willis Elementary is 15 mph. At all other times, the speed limit on The Masters Avenue is 35 mph. The detection system can adjust accordingly, but the county will only implement the system when children are coming and going and the light is flashing in the school zone.

Vito Mauro has been driving a Kona Ice truck for the past four years. On Feb. 15, he was parked at the Country Club East Park waiting for Willis Elementary to let out. He spends a lot of time driving in and out of school zones and called drivers "insane" for the way they fly through school zones.

"I live in the middle of a school zone, too." Mauro said. "I see it every day." 

The Kona Ice truck stops by Willis Elementary on Feb. 15.
Photo by Lesley Dwyer

The program is set up so violators fund it. As required by the bill, $60 out of the $100 fine goes to administering the speed detection system, $17 goes to the school district for safety initiatives and $5 goes to the School Crossing Guard Recruitment and Retention Program.

Violators still have the right to contest the ticket, but there’s not as much gray area as there was with the red light cameras. Red light videos had to be reviewed to determine where the car was positioned when the light turned. This violation only depends on what speed was detected at what time. 

“Slowing down has been proven to save lives,” Deputy County Administrator Courtney De Pol said. “If a person is hit by a car at 40 mph, the fatality rate is over 40%. At 20 mph, it’s just 10%.”

The county plans to have the cameras installed by the start of the next school year. 



Lesley Dwyer

Lesley Dwyer is a staff writer for East County and a graduate of the University of South Florida. After earning a bachelor’s degree in professional and technical writing, she freelanced for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Lesley has lived in the Sarasota area for over 25 years.

Latest News